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Wearable Technology Can Save Lives

A garment called LifeShirt contains tiny sensors that can remotely monitor vital signs and 30 other important bio-metric readings of patients.

Some people wear their heart on their sleeves. Soon, many might wear their heartbeat, blood pressure, and dozens of other biometric measurements in their shirt.

A garment called LifeShirt was developed by VivoMetrics Inc. and contains tiny sensors that can help health-care givers remotely monitor the vital signs and 30 other important bio-metric readings of the chronically ill, elderly, cardiac, and other patients who have potentially life-threatening conditions.

"The idea is to provide early identification of potential problems," says Luis Taveras, a partner in Accenture's health and life sciences group. In its technology labs, Accenture is working with the shirt to see how it can be improved or tailored for more mainstream and wider uses in health care, including remote monitoring services that health insurers could be willing to reimburse doctors for providing to their patients.

Currently, health insurers provide very limited coverage for telemedicine types of services, such as remote monitoring, Taveras says. There needs to be an industry wide "mind-shift of how we practice medicine," he says.

For the most part so far, LifeShirt, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for clinical use in 2002, has been tested and evaluated in dozens of pilot programs by more than 100 pharmaceutical makers, medical researchers, universities, and health-care providers, says VivoMetrics VP of sales and marketing Elizabeth Gravatte.

Those studies include Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, which is investigating post-traumatic stress in children and parents that experienced the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

It's also being used by health maintenance organization Kaiser Permanente to study children with sleep disorders, such as apnea. Instead of having the pediatric patients stay overnight in a clinical sleep lab, Kaiser Permanente can monitor the children while they sleep in their homes.

After all, kids who have trouble sleeping in their own beds, often have even more difficulty staying asleep in a hospital sleep lab, Gravatte says. The at-home sleep monitoring cuts the cost of the test by about half compared to if the child had been admitted to a sleep lab, she says.

Some pharmaceutical companies are also using the machine-washable, Lycra and Spandex shirt—which clings snugly to the body—to monitor patients participating in new drug trials, she says. This helps reduce both the time and costs to conduct the trials, she says.

The data is collected on flash card memory, which can be physically sent to VivoMetrics data center, or to researchers or clinicians for less urgent analysis. Data can also be sent to a secure Wi-Fi device and transmitted via the Web for real-time remote patient monitoring, says Gravatte.

As more U.S. doctor practices, clinics, and hospitals deploy interoperable, clinical IT systems, such as electronic health records, and as the nation develops a standards-based health IT infrastructure, the opportunities for additional uses of LifeShirt for the monitoring of chronically ill out-patients will grow, says Gravatte.

As the baby boomer generation ages, use of the LifeShirt could also help more chronically ill and elderly patients stay out of nursing homes and hospitals, says Taveras. "This could keep more of those who want to live independently at home," he says.

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