Augusta University Medical Center uses biosensors to predict changes in med-surge patients

Philips Wearable Biosensor
Augusta University Medical Center is using wearable biosensors to predict deterioration. Image: Philips

ORLANDO, Fla.—A Georgia hospital aims to help nurses care for med-surge patients through a wireless biosensor paired with analytics software that can predict when a patient's condition is deteriorating.

Augusta University Medical Center (AUMC) is the first hospital in the country to use the biosensor in the clinical environment. The hospital decided to test the device on its medical-surgical population to help nurses who sometimes care for up to six med-surge patients at a time, all with varying health concerns, said Kevin Dellsperger, M.D., vice president and chief medical officer at AUMC in an interview with FierceHealthcare.

For a nurse taking care of six patients, it may be several hours between patient assessments. During that time, a patient could be exhibiting subtle signs of deterioration.

“Other than a patient self-actuating a call line or a family member calling for help, there is no way that nurse could know what is going on,” Dellsperger said.

The biosensor device, manufactured by Netherlands-based tech company Philips, pairs with the IntelliVue Guardian Solution, software that integrates clinical decision support analytics with patient information to provide early warning signs for intervention. Guardian is used in hospitals throughout the U.S., including AUMC, but the system just received 510k clearance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use with the wearable biosensor.

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AUMC hopes to make the biggest impact on patient care by using the two technologies to identify patients that are experiencing subtle but potentially problematic changes. The problem, Dellsperger said, is that the range for normal vital signs is very broad: A normal heart rate is anywhere from 60-100 beats per minute. A patient that jumps from 60 to 90 beats per minute is still within a normal range but is likely signaling distress.

“You can still be in the normal range and be getting very sick,” Dellsperger said. “When you look backward at an event you sometimes see that as much as 12 hours earlier, and certainly in many cases, four to six hours earlier. Those are really vital times to see some of those changes.”

Traditionally, those signals are missed in units like med-surge where patients are not connected to hardwired sensors. The biosensor—which tracks respiratory rate, blood pressure, heart rate and temperature—feeds that data into the analytics software and notifies clinicians when a patient’s vital signs could signal a larger problem.

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The biosensors have only been used for two-three months at AUMC, so Dellsperger said the hospital is still trying to determine exactly how it wants to move forward with the device and what operational barriers still exist. Feedback from clinicians has been positive, but reliance on new technology is both a blessing and a curse, he said. Although it can assist clinical care, he worries that clinicians will become too reliant on new devices.

“I keep warning them, ‘Don’t forget your critical thinking skills,’ because technology isn’t always going to be right,” he said.

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