Plaster that checks you're still breathing could help reduce hospital re-admissions



00:34 GMT, 15 May 2012

The digital 'plaster' allows patients to be monitored continuously

The digital 'plaster' allows patients to be monitored continuously

A digital ‘plaster’ that records patients’ vital signs could help to prevent serious complications and reduce hospital re-admissions.

The gadget, developed by a team of researchers at Imperial College in London, takes measurements of a patient’s functions such as heart rate, breathing and temperature, and then transmits them wirelessly to medics.

It allows patients to be monitored continuously, and the researchers say it will help clinicians pick up any abnormalities earlier, which can help reduce serious complications.

As Professor Chris Toumazou, the lead
developer, explains: ‘When patients are admitted to hospital for
elective surgery or non-urgent conditions, their vital signs are only
monitored every four hours, unless they have been identified as being at
high risk of deterioration.

some cases, there can be deterioration in their condition in between
readings, but this device allows continuous monitoring, so warning signs
can be picked up much more quickly.’

The gadget — the size and shape of a normal plaster — is attached to the patient’s chest with an adhesive strip.

attach the device as soon as the patient is admitted, and it records
pulse rate, breathing rate, body temperature and heart activity.

from the plaster is transmitted to a small, wall-mounted receiver near
the patient’s bed, which then relays it to a central location, such as a
nurse’s station, where medics can monitor the patient’s condition.

Clinicians can also set the device to record limits for readings, for example a patient’s breathing rate.

When the readings start to fall outside these parameters, the device sends an alert.

‘Patients can often be discharged from hospital, then re-admitted a few days later with complications,’ says Professor Toumazou.

‘But with this device their physical signs are being monitored much more closely, so clinicians are able to detect small abnormalities earlier, which should help to reduce re-admissions.’

The trial of the plaster was carried out at St Mary’s Hospital in London, and involved around 50 patients admitted for general surgery and other non-urgent conditions.

Doctors attach the device as soon as the patient is admitted, and it records pulse rate, breathing rate, body temperature and heart activity

Doctors attach the device as soon as the patient is admitted, and it records pulse rate, breathing rate, body temperature and heart activity (file picture)

As part of the trial, the reliability of the device was compared with traditional bedside monitoring machines, called MP 30 machines.

These also monitor patients continually but resources dictate that only patients in intensive care usually get them. They are also not very portable.

Researchers found the quality of the data was as accurate as the traditional method, and nurses found the device much easier to use.

The monitoring also meant that abnormalities or potential complications were detected earlier.

Furthermore, the plasters are much cheaper at 35 each than the MP 30 machines, which cost thousands.

Dr Kahmal Ahmed, a consultant who conducted the trial at St Mary’s, says patients found the plaster comfortable to wear and were reassured by being kept under constant surveillance.

‘Patients were monitored before and after surgery to give a wide range of readings.

'We also used it with patients with multiple conditions, such as diabetics, people with a high body mass index, those with irregular heartbeats, and also in patients with hyperthyroidism.

‘The MP 30 machine is the “gold standard” for bedside monitoring and the device compared extremely well with this.’

Dr Mike Smith, vice-chair of the Patients’ Association, says: ‘All patients would welcome the introduction of a tried, tested and straightforward way to continuously monitor their body’s vital signs when they are in hospital.

‘Something as non-intrusive as a plaster which continuously takes readings such as heart rate and temperature, instead of waiting for checks that nurses do at present, could be a real life-saver.’

The device has recently received approval for use in the U.S. from the Food and Drug Administration, and the developers are currently seeking approval for use in the UK from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Agency.


Doctors are also using high-tech sensors to administer pain relief with a new device based on game technology.

The gadget, implanted near the spine to treat chronic pain in the back, trunk and limbs, uses sensors similar to those also found in iPhones and Nintendo Wii computer consoles.

These detect whether a patient is walking, sitting, or lying down, and then trigger electrodes to emit tiny electrical pulses that block pain signals between the spine and the brain.

Implanted electrodes have previously been used with success to treat pain, but relied on the patients altering the strength of the signals with a remote control.

This is because the level of stimulation depends on the distance between the spinal cord and the implanted electrodes.

The spinal cord is closer to the electrodes when lying down, and further away when standing.

However, the new device adjusts the levels of pain relief automatically.

One study of 100 people with back pain found that, after two years, nearly half of patients had their pain levels reduced by half, while only 7 per cent of patients in the placebo group experienced a similar reduction.