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Smart shoes and mobile healthcare

Geschreven door Ben van Lier - 26 februari 2013

Ben van Lier
When I go jogging on a Sunday morning, I am seeing increasing numbers of runners with devices attached to their arm. Often it’s an iPod connected to sensors in their shoes, the sensors registering the amount of time the shoe is in contact with the ground. The information derived from this is then combined with an individual training schedule. A virtual coach will then indicate how the performance compares against the personal training schedule.

The advice given by the coach is based on information that is stored, via an internet connection, after the run is completed, in the training schedule made available on internet by Nike. This individual training schedule is based on information from runners all over the world, which is received, processed and analyzed by Nike. This information is then combined with information from top athletes and top trainers. Using this data, Nike creates an individualized training schedule. This is what Nike has to say about the essence of this model: “People change their behavior – often for the better – when they are being observed” [1] . For the time being, I’ll stick with my own personal observations on my performances, but the model itself is fascinating enough to be used in, for example, the development of new forms of care and support in a rapidly ageing society.


Nike’s success isn’t related to the device itself – similar pieces of equipment are already freely available. The success lies in the software, which makes the connection between the devices possible, and which combines the personal information with information made available by others. According to Peterson et al. [2] (2012), new developments that are based on hard- and software that are connected to each other may play an important role in the future in assisting individual elderly people living at home who suffer from dementia for example. This is certainly the case when a combination of applications can support the individual elderly person in a specific and dynamic context (place, time and goal).

Responding to deviations

This development towards interconnected hard- and software has also been envisaged by Jara et al. [3] (2011) for example, who specifically focus their attention on patients with diabetes. According to McCullagh et al. [4] (2011), there is a great future within the care sector for sensors worn on the body, which work together with other sensors in their environment, thereby contributing to the collection, processing and exchange of information between the individual patient and the care giver. This approach, which is based on the exchange and sharing of information, can for example contribute to direct action being taken when exceptional circumstances occur in the living situation of the relevant individual. The individual collects and processes his own information within his own environment and communicates this information to others, which leads to a more accurate picture than the normal everyday one. Deviations from this everyday situation can then be registered more effectively and more efficiently. Professional care givers are enabled to give better advice, and more quickly, tailored to the individual during a regular consultation or from a distance. According to McCullagh et al., technology can provide a reliable filter: “enabling the doctor to attend to urgent cases”. (2011:62)

eHealth interoperability framework

Technological applications that are connected together in networks, and that exchange and share information, provide not only an important contribution to improving personal performances, but will in the future also be able to contribute to the care and support of an increasing number of elderly persons in Europe. The European Commission recently published an E-Health Action Plan 2012-2020 [5], in which the commission declares: “We know from a wide range of other services that information technology applications can radically revolutionize and improve the way we do things”. In this plan, the commission states that a significant barrier to using these possibilities is formed by a lack of vision on the interoperability of information within the care sector. The commission concludes that: “the important issue of the lack of health data exchange can only be tackled by addressing in a coordinated way fragmented legal frameworks, lack of clarity and lack of interoperability”. The commission therefore proposes the development of a specific eHealth interoperability framework. The eHealth framework would then operate alongside the existing eGovernment framework in Europe – a framework in the context of Intelligent Transport systems, or specific frameworks that are developed for the exchange and sharing of information that will prove useful in the context of the theme of security.

Working together to achieve good care

The conclusion can be drawn that the exchange and sharing of information between a range of human and non-human actors in random networks will become increasingly important and complex. A solution for a specific sector will thereby no longer be adequate. The question of whether more investments should be made in a more fundamental and holistic approach to this issue, including in the EU context, is then a topical one. The problem of the interoperability of information will eventually spread, slowly but surely, from the smallest level on a nanoscale to the effects on a macro scale of the exchange and sharing of information in the form of a society based on networks and the exchange and sharing of information within them. Certainly from the perspective of good and affordable care for the rapidly growing group of the elderly in Europe, collaboration in this area between and above sectors is of crucial importance. I urge everyone active in this field to respond to this blog so that we can start a discussion on this topic.

[1] Wired: The Nike experiment: How the Shoe giant unleashed the power of personal metrics – Mark McClusky 22-06-09
[2] Peterson C.B., Prasad N.R. and Prasad R., (2012) The future of assistive technologies for dementia. ISG-ISARC 27 June 2012. Journal of Personal & Ubiquitous computing
[3] Jara J., Zamora A. and Skarmeta A.F.G., (2011) An internet of things-based personal device for diabetes therapy management in ambient assisted living
[4] McCullagh P.J. and Augusto J.C., (2011) The internet of Things: The potential to facilitate health and wellness. CEPIS Upgrade vol. XII, no. 1, February 2011 pp. 59-68
[5] eHealth Action Plan 2012-2020 – Innovative healthcare for the 21st century. Brussels 6-12-2012 Com(2012) 736 final

Ben van Lier works at Centric as an account director and, in that function, is involved in research and analysis of developments in the areas of overlap between organisation and technology within the various market segments.