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Future Tense: Body Sensor Networks

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Technology: Body sensor networks (BSN)

Purpose: The wireless medical monitoring system would replace that trip-inducing tangle of wires at the bedside by using body sensors to capture patients' vital signs.

Manufacturer: GE Healthcare

How it works: The BSN would use wireless, miniature sensors, placed on the patient's body, to collect information including temperature, blood glucose level, pulse-oximetry, electrocardiogram readings, respiratory function, and other physiological metrics. Real-time patient information could be collected and transmitted to doctors and nurses who could monitor the patient's vital signs from any location.

Potential improvement: BSNs would make it easier for caregivers to transport patients. Now, they must either drag the equipment along with the patient or disconnect and reconnect the wired sensors each time they move the patient. BSN could improve workflow and save time for nurses and techs. The ability to move patients without disconnecting and reconnecting wires would also ensure uninterrupted data collection. Untethered patients are more mobile, which can improve outcomes, speed recovery, and reduce length of stay. With fewer wires to sterilize, the system could also help reduce risk of infection.

What's Next: The device is in early development stages and will likely remain so until the FCC follows up on a proposed rule to allocate a dedicated, vendor-neutral wireless spectrum band for low-power, short-range wireless medical devices, such as BSNs. (A dedicated frequency would reduce interference from other radio devices.) A number of organizations, including GE and Partners Healthcare, have filed comments in favor of the rule. At presstime, no word from the FCC.

Gienna Shaw

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