Associate Professor Amir Rahmani designs sensors and software for the Internet of Things (IoT). He says IoT’s full potential is unrealized in the healthcare space.
After earning his PhD in computer science, Associate Professor Amir M. Rahmani felt pulled to healthcare applications, where he could see the positive impact of his work.
He quickly found that healthcare and technology together are full of untapped potential.
“We have adopted technology so well in every sector,” he argues. “You’re talking about Industry 4.0 in other fields, but healthcare is in the Stone Age.”
Rahmani designs sensors and software for the Internet of Things (IoT), physical objects embedded with technologies that enable connection and data exchange over networks.
IoT technology has been well-utilized in homes and buildings — think cars, refrigerators, televisions, lighting.
When used in the healthcare space, the technology has the potential to prevent serious illness, increase access to healthcare and reduce soaring medical expenses.
A turning point in remote monitoring
COVID-19 was a significant turning point toward the future Rahmani envisions.
Prior to the pandemic, healthcare policy, privacy limitations and health insurance rules hindered the adoption of remote health monitoring.
“Four or five years ago, I had to make a case for it,” he recalls. “Now it’s been shown how important it is for keeping people healthy. Not everyone needs to go into hospitals and clinics.”
As the leader of HealthSciTech Group and associate director of the Institute for Future Health, Rahmani works with researchers across disciplines to uncover novel ways of marrying technology and healthcare delivery.
The future of community-centered care
One of his major projects is a National Science Foundation planning grant to establish a model of digital community-centered care (DCCC), with co-investigators Adey Nyamathi, founding dean and distinguished professor at the Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing, and computer science professor Nikil Dutt.
Current community-centered care models are successful, Rahmani notes, but they rely on community health workers (CHWs) supervised by registered nurses to provide services to the elderly, disabled and other vulnerable populations.
The current model, though successful, is inefficient and cannot be scaled up in a cost-effective way, Rahmani says.
By incorporating digital technology that enables remote monitoring, a wider number of people can be served, further narrowing health equity gaps in underserved communities.
“By making this process more efficient, you can save lives.”
Partnering with Meals on Wheels
Rahmani has partnered with Meals on Wheels Orange County for a test run of his vision with a small pool of families.
Each patient and their caregiver will be given a set of wearable and portable devices to measure their blood pressure, heart rate and other health indicators. Interaction between the CHW and the caregiver will happen primarily on a mobile app, and physical assessments of both participants will be given during visits.
The caregiver component is an especially important one. “Caregivers are under huge amounts of stress, especially family caregivers,” he points out.
The visits are all about preventing serious illness.
“The CHWs are there to promote health management,” he says. “It’s about making sure people are taking care of their health, detecting issues, making referrals. The benefits can be huge.”
One of the benefits is a healthier population with fewer medical expenses. National healthcare spending currently tops an average of $11,500 per person, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Over the next few years, Rahmani intends to apply for larger grants to scale up and serve greater populations.
Data: the new water
Rules and regulations around privacy and data are a barrier, but data is a critical piece of the puzzle.
Rahmani puts it this way, paraphrasing a popular saying: “To some people, data is the new oil, but I would say it’s the new water because it’s even more important.”
To truly build interconnected health monitoring systems using artificial intelligence (AI), a rich set of data is a must. Rahmani is finding ways to capture that data from different sources and how to best use that information to create a personalized models based on an individual’s genetics, lifestyle, community, environment, and social factors. He predicts that precision health will exist on a large scale within the next decade.
To this end, Dr. Rahmani and his colleague Dr. Ramesh Jain, have recently founded a campus-wide center, Institute for Future Health, which aims to radically transform health systems away from hospitals and into the hands of each individual.
“Each person is unique,” he says. “The idea of personalized health is building a personal model for each patient based on what works best for them instead of prescribing the same thing to everyone.”
Contact Amir Rahmani.