Would you wear a shirt that monitors your heart beat, breathing, and body temperature? The EU-funded HealthWear project is betting that some patients with serious health problems will.
The HealthWear team has developed textiles embedded with lightweight, non-intrusive sensors that collect body data from sensors and send it via a mobile connection to a Portable Patient Unit (PPU) kept by caregivers. The sensors keep track of a number of stats, including respiration movement, electrocardiograph (ECG) data, pulse rate, skin temperature, and blood oxygen saturation. All information is stored on an electronic health record for future reference by doctors and caregivers.
The system has already been proven to work in trials. A group of 24 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease sufferers were allowed to be discharged from a hospital after 3.6 days, compared to 6.8 days for a control group. While three control group patients had to be readmitted, only one from the HealthWear group returned to the hospital.
So while the technology is still too expensive for widespread use, it could ultimately pay for itself by cutting down on doctor’s visits and hospital admissions. And for elderly patients who live alone, it could make the difference between life and death.
But smart clothing could be used to keep tabs on lax patients as well. The EU-funded NEXUS project will use smart clothes to let doctors spot sleep apnea cases and make sure the patients are following prescribed exercise programs.