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JUL/AUG 2013  

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White paper: passive sensors could radically change health care

Wireless communication standards have allowed sensors to develop from traditional forms—those that require the active involvement of the patient in collecting data, transmitting it, or both—to passive forms that do not need patient participation. The most fully passive sensors can provide constant monitoring of a person's vital signs or other measures, and store that data or send it wirelessly to a care team.

Health economist Jane Sarasohn-Kahn and the California HealthCare Foundation have published a report, “Making Sense of Sensors: How New Technologies Can Change Patient Care,” that describes the early phase of development and adoption of passive sensors for patient care outside the hospital. It assesses the current landscape, the drivers and barriers to adoption, and the promise of these technologies to help make care better and cheaper.

Many types of sensors are being deployed, including:

  • Blood-sampling sensors, such as glucose meters
  • Tissue-embedded sensors, such as pacemakers and defibrillators
  • Ingestibles embedded in pills that dissolve
  • Epidermal sensors, such as patches and digital tattoos
  • Wearables embedded in clothing or accessories
  • External sensors, such as blood-pressure cuffs and pulse oximeters


Although the use of sensors is increasing, there are a number of challenges to widespread use for large patient populations such as the chronically ill. To be embraced, sensors need to: be easy to use and affordable for patients; fit well with provider workflow and payment; and improve patient care without inundating clinicians with data. In addition, privacy, legal, and regulatory challenges need to be addressed.

Click here to read the white paper.