Sensiotec believes it has developed the first noncontact patient monitoring solution.
By Jamie Hartford
Sensiotec's Virtual Medical Assistant measures heart and respiration rates, as well as body movement via this sensor panel, which can be placed under a bed or chair.
Providers and patients alike have long complained about the web of cables that entangles patients in the hospital. While these cords provide a vital lifeline by connecting patients to monitoring equipment, they can also obstruct care, restrict movement, and even transmit infection.
In recent years, a number of companies—including MD+DI’s 2012 Medical Device Manufacturers of the Year, Sotera Wireless, Airstrip Technologies, and Proteus Digital Health—have emerged with technologies that use wearable sensors to cut those cords while maintaining providers’ vital link to patients’ data. But one company is going a step further.
Atlanta-based Sensiotec believes it has created the first truly noncontact vital signs monitor. The company’s Virtual Medical Assistant product uses a sensor panel placed under a patient’s bed or chair to monitor heart and respiration rates as well as body movement.
“The patient doesn’t need to wear anything,” says Sensiotec CEO Robert Arkin. “It doesn’t require patient compliance. If you’re sitting in a chair or laying in bed, you’re going to be monitored.”
Using ultrawideband technology that can penetrate nearly anything except solid steel, the sensor panel sends out electronic pulses every two nanoseconds. The pulses are streamed continuously via any wireless network, decoded by an algorithm, and ultimately transmitted to computers, smartphones, and tablets through which caregivers can view patients’ data and receive status alerts.
“Our system is device agnostic,” Arkin says. On the front end, we have the sensor panel, but that’s the only hardware we supply. The rest of what we’re supplying is software, which can reside on our server or on their server, and the information can be sent to any smart device.”
Aside from cutting down on hardware, the Virtual Medical Assistant can also reduce the need for manpower. Conventional telemetry systems require three shifts of dedicated operators to monitor patient data. But because the Virtual Medical Assistant’s dashboards and alerts can be delivered on mobile devices, Sensiotec’s solution eliminates that need.
“A nurse can be walking down the hallway and looking at the four or seven rooms they’re in charge of [on a mobile device], and their supervisor can also have a display that will show the 15, 30, or 45 rooms they’re in charge of,” Arkin says.
As a result, the Virtual Medical Assistant is around half the cost of a conventional telemetry system, he says.
Sensiotec received FDA 510(k) Class II clearance for the Virutal Medical Assistant in January 2009, but the product won’t launch commercially until some time this quarter. Arkin says the company delayed going to market after research found the product needed some tweaks in order to have commercial appeal. It was originally developed as a standalone device, but hospitals needed it to be scalable, so Sensiotec adapted the system for a Web platform that can run up to 1000 beds on a single server. Arkin says the algorithm also needed further development and admits the original user interface (UI) was “wonky.”
“We did some testing and found it wasn’t caregiver friendly, so we went through another development effort to change the UI completely. ”
Funding also contributed to the delay. Sensiotec was founded just as the financial crisis in the United States was deepening and the country was sinking into the Great Recession. “I started the company in 2008, and 2008 was not a good year in the financial markets,” Arkin says. “Capital was an issue, and that slowed our development.”
To date, the company has raised around $4.5 million, including a series A round last year that brought in nearly $2 million. but Arkin says he and some of Sensiotec’s employees had to reach into their own packets initially to keep the company afloat. “Until 2013, we were basically bootstrapping operations,” he says. “By 2013 we advanced our development to a point that we had something that was really sexy, and we understood the market better and figured out how it could fit in.”
Though the Virtual Medical Assistant hasn’t yet launched commercially, Arkin says three clients—a 500-bed level I trauma center, one of the largest hospital burn units in the United States, and a nursing home operator—are piloting the technology. Sensiotec plans to initially target hospitals, but Arkin says the company is also in discussions to bring the Virtual Medical Assistant to more skilled nursing facilities and even patients’ homes.
You can see the Virtual Medical Assistant in action later this month at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Annual Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, FL, where it will be on display in the Intelligent Hospital Pavillion’s step-down room and Intelligent Health Home.
—Jamie Hartford, managing editor, MD+DI
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the electronic pulses generated by the sensor panel are streamed via a ZigBee mesh network. In fact, the pulses can be streamed via any wireless network.