Return of the Guru

Remote Body Monitoring: Will We Allow It?

Ara Trembly
Insurance Experts' Forum, June 21, 2011

One of the most daunting things about the incredibly rapid advance of technology is that while that advance seems to have momentum of its own, human beings don’t quite seem ready for what our creative brains have wrought.  Just ask Dr. Frankenstein about that creature he pieced together. 

In a more recent vein, ScienceDaily reports that new research by electrical engineers at Oregon State University has confirmed that an electronic technology called "ultrawideband" could hold part of the solution to an ambitious goal in the future of medicine—health monitoring with sophisticated "body-area networks."

According to the report, such networks would offer continuous, real-time health diagnosis to reduce the onset of degenerative diseases, to save lives and to cut health care costs.  Of course, that could also mean a reduction in costs for health insurers and, hopefully, for all of us who pay increasingly burdensome health insurance premiums.

“This type of sensing would scale a monitor down to something about the size of a bandage that you could wear around with you," said Patrick Chiang, an expert in wireless medical electronics and assistant professor in the OSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in the ScienceDaily article. "The sensor might provide and transmit data on some important things, like heart health, bone density, blood pressure or insulin status." 

He adds that the units could also help prevent health problems by detecting arrhythmias or anticipating heart attacks.  Surely health insurers can’t wait for this technology to go mainstream.

The article goes on to chronicle a number of technical challenges to this technology’s widespread adoption, but perhaps the biggest challenge, as I see it, will be that most of us won’t want to wear the blasted things.  I have to admit, I’m really not wild about wearing a bandage 24x7, which is what would have to happen if the unit is going to constantly monitor my vital signs, etc.  Sure, I suppose they could try to make designer bandages that looked really cool (and cost a lot more), but the inconvenience and discomfort of having something stuck to one’s body all day will probably trump even that brilliant marketing scheme. 

The other significant challenge to this idea is the obvious fact that if someone can monitor your bodily functions (a disturbing thought in itself), they could probably also locate you at any time.  Auto insurers might be able to track your signal and determine whether or not you tend to speed a lot, then instantly raise your insurance premiums if they find that you have a lead foot.  It’s one thing for insurers to want tracking devices in one’s car, but having the devices report one’s every anatomical happening seems to me a bit too invasive. 

I’m going to keep a careful eye on this whole body monitoring thing, but I can’t back it as a winner today.  On the other hand, as my horse racing friends will readily tell you, I have failed to back some real winners when it would have been very profitable to do so.  So it goes.

Ara C. Trembly ( is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Ara using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at

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