Supporting Kampo Doctors in Dealing with Sub-health Issues with Sensors! Technology to Visualize Data from Palpations

Kampo doctors diagnose conditions that may lead to illness

Do you know any Kampo doctors? Kampo doctors, having originated from ancient Chinese medicine and developed in Japan, diagnose patients based on interviewing them, taking their pulses, examining their tongues, and palpating their abdomens, and treat them by mainly prescribing herbal medicine containing natural drugs. Until the latter half of the Edo period, all doctors in Japan were Kampo doctors. Around the time when the study of Western sciences was introduced by Genpaku Sugita and Ryotaku Maeno, Western medicine began to appear. Since then, Western medicine has been the mainstream medicine until now. But, recently, Kampo medicine, in which patients are fully diagnosed, is being reconsidered with growing expectations being placed on Kampo doctors.

Kampo doctors use an approach of dealing with conditions that may lead to illnesses before actually manifesting itself as illnesses (sub-health issues) as their specialty. Since an important aspect of Kampo is not only to simply cure illnesses, but also to promote a long, healthy life with no limitations to daily activities; it considers dealing with the conditions at that level to be important.

But traditionally diagnostic standards in Kampo have often relied on the doctor's own knowledge and experience. Therefore, it has been difficult to produce data on processes that would help other doctors objectively understand the basis for a diagnosis. Objectively capturing a doctor's palpations as data using ICT would require a sensitive, flexible sensor that causes neither the doctor nor patient to feel uncomfortable—a key feature considered during development.

Visualizing a doctor’s palpations

Glove-type touch sensor (Left), System for capturing touch data (Right)

Fujitsu Limited, Fujitsu Laboratories, and the Kitasato Institute's Kitasato University Oriental Medicine Research Center together have developed a sensitive thin-film pressure sensor that can detect where the body is being palpated by the Kampo doctor and can capture firmness data. This is a glove-type touch sensor that does not diminish the doctor's sense of touch when palpating. The sensor tracks the movement of the doctor's hand with an accuracy of approximately 0.2 mm, using reflective markers attached to the fingertips of the glove and an infrared camera that monitors those markers. The glove-type sensor eliminates the need for a driver power source in the pressure-sensing components that come in contact with the patient, resulting in low power consumption and improved safety.

The partners used this sensor to capture touch-data in a mock examination experiment, and confirmed that numerical data from palpations can be captured. This sensor enables data from palpations of Kampo doctors to be formalized and expressed objectively, which until now has been difficult, allowing data on sub-health conditions, which would not be diagnosed as illnesses in Western medicine before symptoms appear, to be produced and accumulated. In addition, since this will also lead to supporting Kampo doctors and developing human resources, more people may use Kampo medicine or comprehensive medical examinations in Kampo.

Fujitsu Limited, Fujitsu Laboratories, and the Oriental Medicine Research Center are considering ways to further improve sensor sensitivity and expand sensor coverage to the palm of the hand, and look forward to assisting doctors with their palpations while amassing data from palpations by Kampo practitioners using this technology to make it objectively accessible.