Smart home thermostats can help monitor patient health

Thursday, December 3, 2020
Older woman sits on couch using television remote.

Household smart thermostat sensors can be used to help monitor the health of older adults and home patients, according to results from a new University of Waterloo pilot study.

The researchers tested the efficacy of using remote sensor data from ecobee, a Canadian smart thermostat technology, and created algorithms using software they are developing – the UbiLab Public Health Surveillance Platform – to determine typical user behaviours, such as sleeping, physical activity and sedentary behaviour.

“This approach will enable health-care providers to monitor personal health from the patient’s home and analyze the data quickly to develop a personalized treatment plan or to follow a patient’s progress over time,” said Plinio Morita, a professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo. 

“Our study achieved comparable results in terms of sleep, physical activity and sedentary behaviour to those obtained by the Public Health Agency of Canada through more costly, time-consuming and labour-intensive surveys.”

Typically, the time span between collection, analysis and interpretation of health data can take up to 17 years from research to policy decisions. “This technology uses artificial intelligence algorithms and has the potential turn reams of real-time data into useful and actionable insights.” Morita said.

“Data access is one of greatest challenges in public health research,” he added. “Understanding these types of behavioural patterns without the need for other humans to collect this subjective data has the potential to reduce public health care costs and improve services.”

“Another challenge we have is that people worry about their privacy, and rightly so,” he said. “There is a balance we must strike between collecting meaningful data and making it available for personal and public health purposes.”

A next step for the software is to develop a carefully designed dashboard interface to display meaningful and actionable health information for public health officials and leverage this same data to better evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on sleep patterns across Canada. An estimated 100,000 Canadians already have ecobee smart thermostats in their homes. 

The paper, “Enabling Remote Patient Monitoring Through the Use of Smart Thermostat Data in Canada: Exploratory Study,” was published in JMIR, and authored by Plinio Morita, Kirti Sundar Sahu and Arlene Oetomo, all at Waterloo.