A new University of Waterloo pilot study has shown that smart home thermostats can be used to monitor the health of older adults and home patients.

By using remote sensor data from Ecobee, a smart thermostat, and by creating algorithms using software they are developing, the UbiLab Public Health Surveillance Platform, researchers are able to determine typical user patterns like sleeping, physical activity and sedentary behaviour.

Plinio Morita, a professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo, said in a release that this approach will allow 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.

“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.”

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

This technology has the potential to reduce public health-care costs while improving services. Morita elaborated by noting that data access is one of the biggest challenges in public health research. This technology will bypass the need for people to collect this subjective data as there will already be an understanding of behavioural patterns.

The next step for the software is to develop a dashboard interface that will show meaningful and important health information for public health officials and leverage this same data to better evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on sleep patterns across Canada.

It is estimated that 100,000 Canadians already have an Ecobee smart thermostat in their home.  

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 the University of Waterloo.