The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for a wearable biosensor patch that helps solve many of the challenges doctors, nurses, and therapists face when treating COVID-19 patients in intensive care units (ICUs).
The VitalPatch allows clinicians to monitor 11 vital signs continuously and remotely, freeing staff to attend to more patients. It also protects staff from being exposed to infectious illnesses. The device and its software were developed by Vital Connect, a biotechnology company based in Silicon Valley.
“The [software] interface shows patients in easy-to-interpret tiles, displaying vital signs to clinicians,” said Natalie Schoen, a senior account executive for VitalConnect. “This allows them to review historical data for each patient, to understand trends and inform treatment decisions.”
Measuring Vital Signs
VitalPatch can measure vital signs such as blood oxygen levels, blood pressure, respiratory rate, heart rate, and body temperature.
“Clinicians can set customized thresholds and be alerted in real time if a patient crosses a threshold,” said Schoen.
Schoen says physicians and researchers are using VitalPatches to monitor COVID-19 ambulatory patients in an isolation unit at Oxford University Hospital in the United Kingdom.
“Its use reduces risk to caregivers during the pandemic and may lead to improved care of patients,” said Schoen.
The patch can also reduce treatment costs, says Schoen.
“For example, a one-day stay in a New York City hospital costs, on average, $2,013 a day,” Schoen said. “The virus typically takes fourteen days to run its course, so that’s almost $30,000 in cost to the health care system. VitalPatch costs a fraction of this—roughly $1,000—for the same time period.”
Schoen says monitoring health metrics is particularly important in treating COVID-19 patients because reaching certain thresholds can mean death. Patients can wear the patches when they are removed from critical care and return home to recover.
“Physicians have the ability to set and receive text notifications for patients that are outside their current threshold for any of their vitals,” said Schoen. “Clinicians also have the ability to immediately connect with patients through the [computer] tablet to visit the patient virtually and determine next steps in their course of treatment.”
Expanding Access, Cutting Mortality
Remote technology and telemedicine are important in addressing the pandemic, especially in underserved areas, says Sally Pipes, president of the Pacific Research Institute.
“Telemedicine can address health disparities by allowing physicians to remotely deliver care,” Pipes said. “A recent survey found that one-quarter of rural Americans say they’re unable to get care when they need it. It takes people living in rural parts of the country almost twice as long as urban residents to get to the nearest hospital. Telehealth allows these patients to get the care they need, even if they live in an area with a shortage of providers.”
Virtual technology that allows doctors to monitor patients remotely can greatly reduce death rates, says Pipes.
“Take the case of a Utah-based tele-intensive care unit, where providers monitor patients by video and can modify treatment and order tests remotely,” Pipes said. “A study of 3,000 patients found that the program cut mortality by 33 percent.”
Ashley Herzog (email@example.com) writes from Avon Lake, Ohio.