Wireless Sensor Network Expertise for Clinical Monitoring

Wireless sensor network is now in set to contribute to medical revolution. A good number of intelligent physiological sensors can now be incorporated into a wireless body area network that you can carry along or wearable as a patient. The system can be now be used for computer assisted rehabilitation or early detection of medical conditions. The goal lies in the feasibility of implanting very small bio-sensors inside the human body that are comfortable and that don’t interfere with normal activities.

The standardized terms for WSN in medical industry is known as Body area network (BAN); wireless body area network (WBAN) or body sensor network (BSN. This terminology tends to describe the activity of wireless communication between several miniaturized body sensor units (BSU) and a single body central unit (BCU) worn in the human body. Real-time patient monitoring will enable timely prediction of clinical deterioration of non Intensive Care Units (non-ICU) inpatients.

LuA clinical study that was demonstrated by Professor Chenyang Lu of the Computer Science and engineering department of the Washington University in St Louis, did show that an automated electronic scoring system integrated with electronic medical records can reduce the delay in recognizing clinical deterioration and activating rapid response teams. The test was first carried out at a Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St Louis, Missouri.

The idea of the study was using WSN to monitor patients’ vital signs even as they move about with sensors taking blood oxygenation and heart-rate readings from at-risk patients once or twice a minute. A base station was serve as the gateway that ultimately combines the sensor readings with data from the patients’ medical records and continually monitor them for signs of deterioration, automatically calling a nurse’s mobile phone if anything goes wrong.

According to the principal investigator, Professor  Lu “The idea is to create a virtual intensive care unit (ICU) where the patients aren’t wired to beeping machines and instead are free to move about as they please”

During the initial trial, consenting patients in the step-down unit wore a telemetry pouch around their necks and a pulse oximeter on a finger that measured heart rate and blood oxygenation. Therefore, the sensor nodes transmitt the oximeter data through relay nodes to a base station, where it was saved in a database and later examined to see if it could have been used to correctly identify patients whose condition was deteriorating.

The results showed most patients exhibiting changes in their vital signs hours before an adverse event, sometimes as much as six hours before.  It therefore proved that a wireless sensor network could monitor vital signs tens or hundreds of times more frequently than clinical staff.

 The team with a grant is now focused on

(1) Full development of a new network protocols that guarantee reliable data collection from (mobile or stationary) patients;

(2) Creating an open and flexible software platform that allows medical experts to plug in different data processing algorithms and sensors;

(3) Allows seamless integration of real-time sensor data into electronic medical record systems.

Prof Lu and the research team believes that to provide timely care of patients with deteriorating conditions, it is essential to update existing electronic medical records with real-time sensor data continuously collected from patients. Each wireless sensor used in this study according to him consists of an embedded computer for on-board processing, a radio interface for wireless communication, and a pulse oximeter for collecting heart rate (HR) and oxygen saturation (SpO2). Wireless sensors attached to patients will continuously collect sensor data and transmit them to an electronic medical record system over a wireless network.