In the early summer of 2005, Star Wars Episode III – Revenge of the Sith premiered worldwide. Diehard fans flocked to the theaters to see Anakin Skywalker embrace the dark side of the force, battle Obi Wan Kinobi and transform into the infamous Darth Vader.
While audiences were enthralled by vivid battle scenes and cool effects, I was intrigued by a less popular scene, where Padmea, mother of Luke and Leia Skywalker, is examined and cared for in an out-of-this-universe hospital room. Padmea lies on the hospital bed, sound asleep, and has all her vitals monitored and featured on the hologram display above her.
Seemingly, one wireless all-encompassing system continuously checks her vital signs and keeps tabs on her health status. It is this scene that made me think about our current state of patient monitoring and wonder just how close we are to reaching a Star Wars like medical future in our times.
Inefficiency of Today’s Patient Monitoring Devices
Today’s doctors and nurses have a multitude of innovative devices and technologies at hand, helping them provide quality care for patients. Commonly used medical instruments to check patient vital signs include blood pressure devices, respiratory monitors, and more.
These devices were originally designed to help medical staff monitor and track one type of vital sign and eventually implemented computing systems to increase their capabilities and track vitals more accurately.
These devices have helped doctors and nurses care for and save patients for decades, but are limited in functionality and are now creating inefficiencies and confusion among health teams.
The inefficiency begins with the basic construct of these devices. For the most part, these vital sign monitors consist of two components: the sensor that connects to the body and the computing element tracking and displaying the vital sign readings.
A major challenge is that these devices require health staff to apply them to each patient. Each patient is different, with varying physical conditions, which requires doctors and nurses to continuously check patients to ensure the sensors are properly attached.
Additionally, health practitioners are constantly hustling from one patient to the next, which may impact how securely and accurately they apply each sensor. Inconsistencies in the sensor application process can impact the data collected from patient vital readings and can render them inaccurate, putting patients in jeopardy and disrupting the collection of patient data.
Adding to the inefficiency is the fact that health teams need to be trained and continuously educated on the various medical devices used in a given facility. Over the years, individual hospitals or hospital chains will accumulate and use multiple types of patient monitoring devices. By maintaining and extending the lifespan of these individual devices over time, hospitals reduce costs.
These savings are difficult to justify though, as the variation of device type will grow over time and staff will struggle to master all the different types of tools, old and new, which can put patients at risk. This risk can take the form of, for example, a care giver accidently using an incorrect or less accurate monitoring device to measure a certain vital sign, like measuring a patient’s respiratory rate with an electrocardiogram impedance checker.
From a servicing perspective, using so many devices becomes a major headache for maintenance crews, as each tool has its own set of components and repair protocols that facility servicers need to learn and abide by.
More Power, More Capabilities
Initially, vital sign monitoring device innovators were limited by the weak processors and computing power available at the time. However, today’s powerful and compact processors allow device engineers to think outside of the box and create all-encompassing monitoring devices that use single sensing elements and monitor mechanical vibrations from patients to detect multiple vital sign parameters.
With one all-encompassing sensor, devices can track and analyze heart and respiratory vital signs with practically no interference, and reach a breakthrough understanding on patient conditions. For example, a patient’s respiratory amplitude can decline while their heart pulse amplitude remains the same, most likely indicating an adverse medical event (rapid shallow breathing might be an early sign for this event).
This type of event would easily be discovered by an all-encompassing sensor and alert health staff to the situation, while with multiple sensor devices, health staff might think that the device or sensor wasn’t placed correctly on the patient or malfunctioned from patient movement.
Taking Devices to the Next Level – Going Wireless
Extra computing power also gives innovators the opportunity to add additional capabilities to their devices, such as contact-free sensors and wireless/Bluetooth connection. The ability to go fully wireless enables devices to invisibly and accurately monitor patients, allowing health staff to keep tabs on their patients from a distance and reduce “white coat hypertension” (white coat effect) while staff spot check throughout the care process. By maintaining a continuous flow of patient data, nurses can focus their attention on the patients who need them most.
Significantly, wireless monitoring systems allow devices to gather pure objective data. They pose no issue for securing the sensor to the patient, which means less hassle for health staff, a true win-win for patient care and patient data generation in the long-term. With these improvements, consolidated all-encompassing patient vital sign monitoring devices can give health staff a full picture of patient health without bothering patients, generating pure patient data throughout the entire process.
From a training and servicing perspective, advanced consolidated devices improve office workflow and resource allocation. Health staff will have fewer devices to master, reducing care processes when tending to patients which also reduces stress on health staff. For maintenance crews, servicers will have fewer smarter devices and suppliers to manage. The added wireless capabilities also enable device companies to communicate directly with the device itself and share insight and maintenance instruction with the servicers.
Modern technology is developing in leaps and bounds. By introducing new technologies to the health ecosystem, medical device innovators now have the tools to address health staff pain points and simultaneously improve patient care. Their efforts will make consolidation among patient monitoring devices the new standard of care across the care continuum, and not only a pipe dream from a galaxy far, far away.
About Guy Meger
Guy Meger is the CTO, GM and VP of Research & Development at EarlySense, the global leader in contact-free, continuous monitoring solutions for the healthcare continuum. He received his B.SC in Computer Engineering from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and his MBA from Tel Aviv University. Guy is also the author of several issued and pending patents.