Internet-Enabled Medical Refrigerator

by Matthew York '04, Paul Kuwick '05, Tom Largi '05, and Dennis Crump '06

photo of students with patient

Social mobility and an aging population have resulted in a higher number of elderly living alone without nearby family than ever before, and they are at-risk of fatal complications from minor accidents because of lack of monitoring. Elderly diabetics are at particularly at risk from a host of diabetes-related health complications, yet home healthcare services are frequently unaffordable or unavailable.

We, as a team of four engineering students and advised by a biomedical engineer James Squire Ph.D., computer engineer David Livingston Ph.D., and physician Joseph Troise M.D., designed a medical internet-aware insulin refrigerator for such a patient living alone. The device consists of a small refrigerator monitored by an embedded microcontroller and connected to a standard telephone outlet. The microcontroller monitors patient access to the fridge. If the door is not opened in a 16-hour period, the microcontroller dials an Internet Service Provider and sends an email and/or a pager alert to a physician or family member anywhere in the world. The system also has an integrated battery-backup that automatically takes over if AC power fails, automatically charges when AC power is available, fully charges in under 60 minutes, and can sustain a two-hour power outage. The refrigerator has been through two design evaluations with a physician and has been tested during a week-long trial by a diabetic patient.

The monitoring device can also be used with a standard refrigerator, so that loved ones or neighbors can be notified if an elderly person living alone does not access a standard refrigerator in a period of 24 hours. This approach not only increases the safety of elderly people living alone but it also provides peace of mind to their loved ones.