TUCSON, AZ - A lot of us wear health monitors like a Fitbit to keep track of our heart rate, but researchers here in Tucson are looking far beyond that technology to save lives, improve quality of life, and save health care costs.
It's new generation of wearable technology that goes beyond just keeping fit.
Stretchable, wearable electronics could be used to save lives in an emergency.
Someone needs compression CPR, so you would stick a sensor to his chest, and begin compressions. The sensor would monitor your motions and how well the patient is doing.
"It would say you're not pressing hard enough. So both the individual motion as well as the patch on the patient would give us two ways to figure out how well we're doing compression CPR," said Dr. Marvin Slepian, University of Arizona professor of Medicine & Biomedical Engineering and Director of the Arizona Center for Accelerated Biomedical Innovation.
There's so much more to stretchable, wearable electronics, according to Dr. Slepian.
Scientists are developing sensors that can monitor patients from home, detect the heartbeat, breathing, perspiration, temperature, and even motion, then send it to the cloud or to a cell phone.
"Think about it--the ability to see if someone has had a change in their mobility which may be a sign of worsening heart failure, if they've had a change in their activity level which maybe a sign of a neurologic condition or any of the things that are more chronic," Slepian said. "The ability to use sensor systems to monitor patients at home will help the patient and also reduce the health care burden, reduce health care costs."
All those electronics fit on a thin film, a patch that you would wear like a Band-Aid.
The patch could catch problems before they become life-threatening.
Dr. Slepian said that could keep people out of the hospital, saving lives and saving money.
"We are dealing with an increasing burden on the health care system in terms of the number of patients we have to take care of. There's been a shift in our focus to try to take care of patients at home rather than having them admitted to the hospital," Slepian said.
A very sick person could be monitored 24/7.
"Let's say you have advanced heart failure and we suddenly are seeing that your activity level is down or we're monitoring your respiration and that's going up, we would know in advance that things aren't so well, and that may lead to an early intervention which, if not intervened upon, the patient may succumb and may die," Slepian said.
Someone who is not as sick could trigger the system once or twice a day.
Dr. Slepian says wearable electronics that sense motion would mean elderly people could stay in their homes longer rather than needing a nursing home.
"People do not want to go to facilities in their last years of life. They would rather stay at home. Wouldn't it be great if we had a system that we could put on a loved one to be able to monitor at a distance--not to invade their privacy--but to know that their daily routine has changed. If we notice that, for instance, they're not getting up at the same time, they're not opening the refrigerator, they're not drinking their coffee, they're not taking their pills," Dr. Slepian said. "We would know that something is up. So, we see this as a means of being able to keep people mobile and at home in their own environment which is good for their general well being, it reduces costs to the health care system and it could ultimately extend life in a happy way."
Dr. Slepian said stretchable, wearable electronics could be on the market within a year or two.
If you'd like to learn more, Dr. Slepian is lecturing on this new technology. He'll be at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, 1501 N. Campbell, Room 5403, on Wednesday, March 15, from 6 p.m. - 7:15 p.m.
According to a UA Sarver Heart Center news release, the lecture is free: "To attend the lecture, please enter the UA Health Sciences campus via Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, 1501 N. Campbell Ave.
To register online, please visit heart.Arizona.edu or click on "Attend Events." If you are unable to register online, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (520) 626-2901. Free event parking is available in the Banner – University Medical Center Visitor Parking Garage or the UA Zone 1 lots (after 5 p.m.)."
Dr. Slepian will also be in Green Valley on March 16, from 10 a.m. until 11 a.m., at the Canoa Hills Social Center, 3660 S. Camino del Sol.