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Wireless monitor frees patients to roam

March 22, 2004 By Michael Hopkin This article courtesy of Nature News.

Wearable device gets hospital residents and elderly out of bed.

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Researchers in Germany have invented a wireless wristband that can monitor heart rates and blood oxygen levels. The invention could liberate recuperating hospital patients or the elderly from their beds.

The wristband combines a pulse oximeter, which measures both pulse rate and the amount of oxygen in the blood, with a transmitter to relay the information to a computer. The system, which is displayed this week at the CeBIT trade fair in Hanover, Germany, does away with the tangle of wires used by conventional monitoring devices.

Allowing patients to rove around the hospital could help to speed their recovery, says Robert Schmidt, a researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits in Erlangen, Germany, who helped to develop the wristband. This is particularly true for those trying to get back on their feet after an injury, he says.

The design could incorporate more monitoring devices, such as sensors for body temperature, blood sugar level and blood pressure, says Schmidt. The system could then automatically alert medical services if a patient or elderly person were to have a crisis, he says.

Body language

The wristband is part of a larger Fraunhofer project called the Body Area Network. The system aims to combine information from several sensors (such as an electrocardiograph that listens to the heart beating) which would be positioned around the body, each transmitting radio signals to a computer worn as a belt or on the wrist.

This computer hub would process the data and send a combined signal to a local health services computer. It might use the same technology as a wireless Internet connection.

This requires the data to be coded in a common language that all receivers can understand. One candidate is a computer language called the VITAL Standard, says Schmidt. "The information needs to be in a standard format so that different doctors can look at the data," he says.

Manufacturers will have to be persuaded to trade in their existing models in favour of new technology, however. "The infrastructure will have to be replaced, and that only happens as fast as the market allows," says Schmidt.

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