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Wireless Network Can Monitor Breathing Rates

Wireless transceivers may help monitor breathing rates of surgery patients, adults with sleep apnea, and babies at risk of sudden infant death syndrome, according to a university study.

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A noninvasive technology that works by placing a network of wireless transceivers around a bed can monitor breathing rates of surgery patients, adults with sleep apnea, and babies at risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). That's the conclusion reached by engineers at the University of Utah in a recent experiment.

The wireless breathing-detection technology, dubbed BreathTaking, was highlighted in a study that involved a network of 20 wireless transceivers placed around a hospital bed. The network reliably detected breathing and estimate breathing rate to within two-fifths of a breath per minute based on 30 seconds of data, researchers said.

As the use of wireless technology in healthcare continues to be explored, Neal Patwari, senior author of the study and an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the university, said the network is built on the ZigBee specification, which is easier to use and less expensive than other wireless personal area networks (WPANs) such as Bluetooth.

He also said the wireless network knows whether someone is breathing or not by using a computer algorithm that senses the loudness of the signal from a person's breathing and collects data used to process the many measurements of signal strength on many links between transceivers.

"As radio transceivers, they are actually wireless devices themselves--they can transmit data wirelessly to some other computer. Thus they might transmit to the hospital's Wi-Fi network, which then transmits data to a server. A doctor or nurse could bring up the data on their screen on any Internet-connected computer or mobile phone," Patwari told InformationWeek Healthcare.

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"This is different than using wireless transmitters to relay measurements from conventional breathing monitors," the researchers said in statement. "The motion of the chest and abdomen during breathing impedes the wireless radio signals crisscrossing a bedridden patient, who in the study was Patwari himself. Each of the 20 transceivers or 'nodes' can transmit and receive to the other 19, meaning there can be up to 380 measurements (20 x 19) of radio signal strength within a short period of time."

The data was collected on two different days during four-hour sessions that involved Patwari laying in different positions and coughing to test signal strength, and also involved researchers monitoring the movement of other people in and outside of the room. "Patient movement does cause changes in signal strength, but again, we can detect movement and know that the changes were not due to breathing," Patwari said.

According to Patwari, it will take five years to bring a product to market, but noted that unlike pulse oximeters or capnography--monitors that require the sensor device to stay attached to the patient--the noninvasive wireless network and the computer algorithm developed along with it brings a new approach to respiratory monitoring. Furthermore, the wireless network can effectively be used to alert doctors and nurses if a patient has stopped breathing, which could increase the safety of people who are under sedation or babies sleeping in a crib.

Find out how health IT leaders are dealing with the industry's pain points, from allowing unfettered patient data access to sharing electronic records. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: There needs to be better e-communication between technologists and clinicians. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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Lisa Henderson
Lisa Henderson,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/29/2011 | 8:56:19 PM
re: Wireless Network Can Monitor Breathing Rates
Does 5 years away from bringing this product to market accurate? Shouldn't it be faster? What are the challenges?

Lisa Henderson, InformationWeek Healthcare, contributing editor
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