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Hospital sensors monitor patients’ vital signs
Telecommunications Weekly recently reported some dazzling features of an experimental virtual ICU unit installed at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. The feasibility study of the clinical warning system now underway at the hospital will be presented at the American Medical Informatics Association Annual Symposium in October.

“When the full system is operational, sensors will take blood oxygenation and heart-rate readings from at-risk patients once or twice a minute. The data will be transmitted to a base station, where they will be combined with other data in the patient's electronic medical record, such as lab test results.

The incoming vital signs and data in the medical record will be continually scrutinized by a machine-learning algorithm looking for signs of clinical deterioration. If any such signs are found, the system will call a nurse on a cell phone, alerting the nurse to check on the patient,” the publication added.

The day is not far off when patients won’t be wired to beeping machines. The clinical warning system described by Telecommunications Weekly is part of a burgeoning new field variously called body sensor networks or wireless health that researchers say will change the future of medicine.

At the end of the trial, computer scientists testing the system were pleased to learn the network was rock solid. Data were reliably received more than 99% of the time.

“Sensing reliability was much lower, only 81%. Occasionally, a patient was wearing nail polish, which can block oximeter readings. Patient movement, such as gesturing, caused short bursts of failures, and some oximeters fell off or were removed, which led to long outages,” Telecommunications Weekly reported.

Researchers are working on the next-generation network, which will be capable of alerting nurses when it senses a patient’s condition is deteriorating. Observers foresee it won’t be long before any patient with a serious medical condition, such as diabetes or asthma, will wear a wireless medical device that will allow them to monitor their own vital signs on a smartphone that will also call relatives or doctors if serious problems arise, the publication reported.