Researchers in Chicago have launched a pilot study to see if a wearable sensor can safely monitor COVID-19 patients at home.
The University of Illinois health system is partnering with PhysIQ, a digital medicine start-up, to create artificial intelligence (AI) that people with COVID-19 could wear that would track vital signs, including oxygen levels and heart rate.
Doctors will view the signals remotely and can contact patients if the system indicates something is wrong, telling them to go to a hospital.
The team says the sensor will not only help prevent hospitals from becoming overcrowded, but also prevent patients from seeking care until it’s too late.
The University of Illinois health system partners with PhysIQ, a digital medicine start-up, to create wearable technology for COVID-19 patients (courtesy of NBC5)
A sensor worn on the chest tracks the patient’s vital signs, including oxygen levels and heart rate, which is connected to a smartphone via Bluetooth (courtesy of NBC5)
according to MIT Technology Review, each patient is given a kit to take home with a pulse oximeter, a sensor patch with Bluetooth, and a paired smartphone.
The patch, which is worn on the chest, uses an AI algorithm to determine a patient’s normal vital signs.
If a patient has oxygen levels or a heart rate that deviates from normal, the patch sends data to the smartphone, alerting doctors.
“It’s a huge benefit,” said Dr. Terry Vanden Hoek, chief of emergency medicine at the University of Illinois Health, at MIT Technology Review.
“Maybe you’re breathing faster, your activity level is dropping, or your heart rate is different from baseline.
Doctors like Dr. Terry Vanden Hoek (pictured) will monitor the data remotely and will contact patients if the alerts are abnormal and tell them to go to a hospital
A trained doctor can review the warnings and contact the patient and tell them to get to a doctor or a hospital, he explained.
Here’s what happened to Angela Mitchell, 59, who tested positive for COVID-19 in July 2020 while working as a pharmacy technician at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago.
Mitchell told MIT Technology Review that she would either quarantine at a hotel or isolate herself at home and get the patch to be monitored 24/7, and she chose the latter.
Two nights in isolation, she woke up and couldn’t breathe.
She went to the bathroom to try to take a shower, but she was sweating, dizzy and trying to catch her breath.
“I was literally in the bathroom, holding on to the sink when my phone rang,” Mitchell told MIT Technology Review.
The call was from clinicians at the hospital who had her vital signs monitored remotely through the patch she was wearing.
They told her to go to an emergency room immediately.
She delayed, but got another call in the morning saying that if she didn’t go to the hospital, an ambulance would be called for her.
Her husband drove to the Northwestern Memorial in Chicago, and after she was admitted, doctors told her her oxygen levels had dropped to dangerously low levels.
She stayed in the hospital for a week.
“I owe my life to this monitoring system,” Mitchell told MIT Technology Review.
“This device is being used in communities that don’t have these opportunities. This can help everyone.’
The study is now recruiting about 1,700 participants from across Chicago, many of whom are at higher risk because they have underlying conditions — such as obesity or diabetes — or are people of color, including African American and Latino.
“When you work in the emergency room, it’s sad to see patients who have waited too long to get help,” Vanden Hoek told MIT Technology Review.
“They would need intensive care on a ventilator. You couldn’t help but ask, ‘If we could have warned them four days earlier, could we have prevented all of this?