Emergency room doctors and nurses at Brigham and Women’s Hospital are getting some high-tech help watching vital signs and rapidly locating patients in the waiting room.
Under a trial funded by a $3.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, the hospital will today begin distributing 10 waist packs to patients that contain sensors, transmitters, and tracking gear. The packs will allow medical staff to constantly monitor patients’ heart rates and blood-oxygen levels while they await treatment.
If a patient needs immediate attention — or collapses in the vicinity of the emergency room — an ultrasound tracking beacon will instantly give caregivers the patient’s exact location. If successful, the units could be commercialized to be used to help handle large numbers of patients in major disasters.
”We wanted some way to monitor patients and track where they were,” said Dr. Thomas Stair, a Brigham and Women’s emergency physician coordinating the project.
Patients’ vital signs will be picked up by a three-lead electrocardiogram and a finger sensor and fed into a personal digital assistant (PDA), then transmitted to a server that will display the information for nurses to monitor.
An ultrasound transmitter will send location information to receivers in the walls of the emergency room, halls, and restrooms. Ultrasound receivers transmit the signals to a computer that stores information about a patient’s movements, according to a program written by MIT scientists.
”This system will tell us heart rhythm, oxygen saturation, and where they are so we can respond better to codes,” Stair said.
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