Measuring equipment built into hearing aids, heart rate monitors in wristwatches, dose control of insulin, self-regulating pacemakers, and many other types of monitoring equipment are gaining ground in the healthcare system, supporting doctors, giving patients more freedom to make measurements at home, and doing away with unnecessary transportation or hospitalizations.
Associate Professor Helge Bjarup Dissing Sørensen, DTU Health Tech, is developing new technologies based on wireless sensors that are currently used as an intelligent alarm system to monitor critical patients with cancer or corona. A system that can provide security for the patient while easing the burden on healthcare professionals.
The WARD system - Wireless Assessment of Respiratory and Circulatory Distres - is being developed in a randomized and controlled trial involving hundreds of patients in a number of Denmark’s hospitals.
“With the help of AI, the system monitors high-risk patients, providing more accurate prognoses of the course of illness in corona patients, for example. Wireless sensors attached to the patient’s body sends data to a computer with mathematical algorithms based on medical and engineering knowledge—AI then assesses whether there are complications or other abnormal events. When there are signs of complications, a direct alarm is sent to a nurse’s mobile phone,” says Helge Bjarup Dissing Sørensen.
"Healthcare professionals will be able to move away from constant patient monitoring to focus on treatment and care instead"
- Helge B. D. Sørensen
Current clinical practice is for healthcare professionals to measure the patient’s condition manually three or four times a day, but according to Helge Bjarup Dissing Sørensen this will soon change radically with the introduction of the above-mentioned health technology.
“The AI-based system allows for 24-hour monitoring while patients are hospitalized, and in the long term, this can also be followed up at home to monitor whether the patient has recovered fully. If the condition requires attention, the nurses will then receive an alarm on their smartphone. Healthcare professionals will thus be able to move away from constant patient monitoring to focus on treatment and care instead. At the same time, the system provides greater security for patients and staff.”
Smaller, better, smarter
Modern wireless sensors are smaller than they were just a few years ago and in the future they are likely to be even smaller, better, and more user-friendly.
“People don’t want measuring equipment to be visible—in the same way that a hearing aid is hidden in your ear. Among others, we use a wireless blood pressure monitor based on a cuff that pumps. Algorithms provide similar estimates based on other sensors such as so-called medical watches, etc., which are very comfortable to wear," Helge Bjarup Dissing Sørensen explains.
"In the future, the sensors will be smaller and be able to measure an even wider range of different signals, making it possible to predict even more early signs of diseases such as advanced stress parameters, critical health conditions, or breathing difficulties, etc. We are also experimenting with wireless mental state detection. In a previous project, we have also developed a method to find early markers of Parkinson’s disease, and thus detect the disease several years before it fully manifests itself. Many more of the body’s different signal types can be picked up by sensors, and the technology is spreading rapidly, but ease of use is still not optimal for all sensors.”
Helge Bjarup Dissing Sørensen also thinks that we will soon find low-cost wireless systems approved by the authorities—e.g. off-the-shelf products at the pharmacy or the supermarket.
“But there’s a huge difference between the gadget-like so-called health devices that already exist in the market and those that have regulatory approval—of which there are currently very few. But there will be many more of them in the future. The development of digital health technology will mean that there will be systems that are so cheap that you will be able to buy them at the supermarket to assess your health and possible early signs of illness.”
Helge Bjarup Dissing Sørensen also highlights an example of a research group that in collaboration with a Danish health technology company has developed a wireless epilepsy alarm for children and adults where the device is located on the arm.
“When an epilepsy attack occurs, an intelligent algorithm sends alarms to a recipient so that, for example, a parent can save the child from injury or even—in the worst case scenario—from outright danger to life at night. And another Danish company has managed to assess the risk of skin cancer with a portable system using advanced imaging. Such systems can’t replace doctors, but they can give advice on seeking medical advice if a birthmark looks suspicious.”