Smart shirt enables patient heart rate monitoring

Spanish researchers have created a prototype "smart" t-shirt for remote patient monitoring.

The shirt, which is washable, has embedded electrodes and an attachable thermometer/accelerometer. The electrodes monitor bioelectric activity, such as heart rate, while the thermometer and accelerometer track patient temperature and mobility. The accelerometer, in particular, can determine whether a patient is lying down, sitting, walking or running. A separate location sensor also tells the system where the patient is, and tracks movement to within six feet. Note: The location device must be carried in the patient's pocket now, but ultimately will be built into the fabric, researchers say.

The system also includes alarms for metrics that fall outside of pre-set parameters, such as a high temperature or fast heart rate, researchers report.

Created by scientists at Spain's Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), the sensors collect biometric data and transmit it wirelessly to a central unit installed at the hospital, Gizmag reports. Researchers already have conducted a small study of the system in the Cardiology Unit of La Paz Hospital in Madrid, with five patients monitored simultaneously for 24 hours a day.

Currently, the system is tied to the hospital, as the data must be routed through a system hardwired within the hospital walls. However, researchers say they plan to tweak the system to monitor patient biometrics at home, and to work in sports medicine, diagnosing cardiac problems in athletes.

Another intriguing wireless monitoring technology debuted this week, as well. It's not a garment, but rather a network of wireless sensors that can be attached to a patient's bed, allowing physicians to monitor the breathing of at-risk patients during surgery or babies suspected of have sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), according to a report in Science Codex. Created by researchers at the University of Utah, the system also may eventually be adjusted to monitor patients with sleep apnea or other sleep disorders, researchers say.

Interestingly, the American Academy of Pediatrics, which doesn't support the use of at-home monitors for preventing SIDS, does acknowledge that the new technology could "be helpful to allow rapid recognition of apnea, airway obstruction, respiratory failure, interruption of supplemental oxygen supply, or failure of mechanical respiratory support."

To learn more: 
- check out Gizmag's coverage
- get more detail from the UC3M press release
- check out Science Codex's story about the new sleep-monitoring system.