Healthcare Outside of the Hospital

Healthcare Outside of the Hospital

3 remote monitoring devices are transforming how we track health

Sometimes the most innovative medical breakthroughs come in the smallest packages. Remote monitoring technology allows medical professionals to monitor a patient’s chronic health conditions around the clock without the need to visit a hospital for tests. These small devices use tiny technology and data analytics to gather and disseminate patient health information in real time. 

“Digitally enabled healthcare technology will enable doctors to treat patients in a more efficient and cost-effective way and will help people in rural areas who live far away from doctors and hospitals,” says John Rogers, PhD, founder and director of the Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics at Northwestern University. 

There’s a long way to go, but we’re getting closer to a world of constant remote care. Here are three remote monitoring devices designed by the Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics that are already changing the way that patients and providers manage healthcare. 

Epidermal sensors

At the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, epidermal sensors are being tested on stroke patients to monitor their recovery outside of the hospital. 

The sensors, which are as small as a Band-Aid and adhere to the skin, con- tinuously monitor motion, speech and vital signs. That information is streamed to a patient’s doctor, allowing for customized care, says Arun Jayaraman, PhD, director of the Max Näder Lab for Rehabilitation Technologies and Outcomes Research at the AbilityLab.

“We want to provide data for the clinicians in a readable way,” Jayaraman says. “We also want to be able to customize the care to the needs of each individual.”

In the future, epidermal sensors may be used to monitor not only sick patients, but also healthy patients, finding disease symptoms in their earliest stages. 

The NICU goes wireless

What if there were a way to monitor the health of premature infants without hooking them up to a spiderweb of wires? Well today, there is. 

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago has ditched the wires for ultrathin, waterproof sensors that are applied to the skin of premature newborns to gather key measurements. The small sensors make it easier to care for and cuddle preemies in the hospital and when they go home. 

The devices collect data just as precise as that from traditional machines, but they are far less invasive. Babies can safely have their heartbeat, blood pressure and blood oxygen levels monitored, and providers and parents can care for the newborns without having to navigate electrodes and wires. 

Smart UV sensors

Remote monitoring isn’t just for hospital patients. The Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics designed a small, lightweight flexible patch that adheres to the skin to help athletes improve their performance. 

The device measures sweat loss during exercise and sporting events. It also analyzes sweat’s pH level and measures the concentrations of chloride, lactate, glucose and creatine, taking the guesswork out of when to rehydrate and replenish needed electrolytes. Medical professionals are also testing noninvasive sweat patches to screen for cystic fibrosis and monitor patients with kidney disease.

The public saw the patch on display in the Museum of Science and Industry’s recent Wired to Wear exhibit. Fans also got a glimpse of it on the arm of tennis champion Serena Williams in a Gatorade commercial.

Innovative smart technologies are leading the way in revolutionizing the medical environment, but don’t expect the way you receive medical care to change. “New devices might reduce the capital costs of new hospitals because some of the existing instruments may no longer be needed,” Rogers says, but the essential human contact between patient and doctor will stay the same.

Above image: Sweat patch. Photo by Elliott Abel/ Shirley Ryan AbilityLab
Originally published in the Fall 2019/Winter 2020 issue.