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New wearable devices: How BioLink used emerging tech to improve patient care

Can a bracelet really save your life? See how wearable devices resulted in improved care quality and patient outcomes for some of our most vulnerable populations.

Challenge

 

Nursing homes have consistently struggled with staffing ratios, and it has only worsened with the pandemic. With a caregiver shortage, nursing home administrators are having to find new ways to keep their patients — a vulnerable, elderly population — safe. That’s where BioLink Systems came in.

Nursing homes need to constantly monitor patient vitals to ensure they are providing the appropriate care and can intervene as quickly as possible if there is an issue. But that can often be difficult with large patient loads and patients that sometimes cannot communicate their needs to staff. And with an elderly population, things can spiral out of control quickly if they aren’t caught in time. By constantly monitoring a patient’s vitals, nursing staff can address concerns quickly and mitigate potentially catastrophic events with the patient.

BioLink Systems had initially created a device that could attach to an adult brief to monitor urination levels and the patient’s body position. However, they quickly began experiencing issues with their prototype and realized that although it demonstrated their capabilities, it was not ready to take to production. They needed to fix these issues quickly, so they reached out to Fusion Alliance for assistance.

Solution

The first step was to fix the proof of concept (POC) to create a new demo to get the necessary funding for the project. However, even after the initial fixes, BioLink realized they needed to start over. The POC had to be rebuilt including the software, like web pages and portals, but also the hardware and firmware. Our solution was to architect a full-blown IoT solution from scratch.

With the initial POC, all of the data was on-premise. But with the new architecture, we moved everything to the cloud. We were able to ensure each patient had a unique identifier and that all data was encrypted, safe, and HIPAA compliant. In addition to re-creating their initial adult brief wearable, we created a wearable device to monitor patient vitals, including body temperature, oxygen levels, and heart rate.

Accurate data in real-time

Once we had a solution for collecting patient data by wearable devices, we needed to ensure that it was transmitted to the right people at the right time.

To do so, we created smart hubs that were spread around the facility to upload data to the cloud in addition to web portals and a mobile application for caregiving staff. The web portals allow caregiving staff to check-in at nursing stations and in offices, and the mobile application is something they can carry around to check on a patient immediately and provide real-time feedback when they are alerted to a patient concern.

These executions allow data to be transferred from the cloud to the portals and mobile apps where caregiving staff are notified with an alert of any patient that requires follow-up care.

Improving patient care & outcomes

Each patient device is outfitted with an NFC chip so once the nursing staff is alerted, they cannot dismiss the alert until they scan the chip on the wearable device and complete the appropriate assessment. If the alert is not dismissed in a timely manner, as identified by the nursing home administration, the alert is escalated to a new caregiver. This ensures that no alert is missed because a caregiver ise attending to another patient or busy, and interventions are completed in a timely manner.

Personalized monitoring & care powered by machine learning

Now that we have this data from patients, we can use machine learning to gain insights about a patient’s care and needs. Initially, the patient care staff will set thresholds for appropriate vital levels, but as more data is collected, the system will learn and be able to figure out what the normal levels are for that patient specifically and alert accordingly.

Data security

The POC device was acting as a Bluetooth beacon, so as we evolved and proposed a new solution, security was at the center of the entire project.

We needed to ensure that the data transmission was completely secure and HIPAA compliant, but also that the wearable device had significant battery life so that data was accurate and consistent. To ensure a long battery life, we created a wearable and smart hub that doesn’t have any screens and only communicates via Bluetooth. You simply have to put the wearable device into pairing mode and it exchanges the encryption key through the cloud. Then, the encryption key is sent to the smart hub, and the data is all encrypted through the device and decrypted once it is in the cloud.

In addition, each wearable device has its own dedicated encryption key so if one wearable is compromised, BioLink can simply address the issue that individual device without other wearables and data being compromised.

Outcomes

Improved patient care

Right now, the system acts as a monitoring system that allows caregivers to consistently monitor their patients and respond in real time to things that could otherwise be catastrophic for a patient. By being able to monitor these simple vitals, caregivers have been able to mitigate negative patient outcomes and provide interventions in a timely manner.

One example includes a patient that had an excessively high heart rate. The system alerted the nursing staff, and they were able to evaluate the patient and recognize that there had been a medication error. They were able to catch it in time and correct it before the patient experienced any additional negative outcomes.

As the machine learning algorithms start to learn from the data collected, both from the wearable and the treatment information the nurses put in the assessment, the staff will be able to see a suggested course of action and recommendations for treatment.

Eventually, as we start to integrate this technology with a patient’s Electronic Medical/Health Record (EMR/EHR), their health record will become a part of the machine learning algorithm and could help healthcare providers with diagnoses.

Improved oversight and administration

In addition to better patient care, this system allows for better oversight of the care being provided. Nursing home administration can now monitor how long it takes for each staff member to respond to an alert, how many alerts had to be escalated, and more. This allows the administration to better manage and train their team members and provide better reporting to regulatory agencies like CMS and The Joint Commission.

Another advantage of using these devices is that nursing homes can become a more attractive option for hospitals to send patients, as hospitals have a vested interest in the quality of care being provided. Based on current healthcare regulations, hospitals are penalized and lose reimbursements when a patient has to be returned to the hospital after being released to a nursing home. With the implementation of these devices, nursing homes are often able to intervene with a patient before it escalates to the need for re-hospitalization.

Limitless possibilities

Right now, these devices are only being implemented in nursing homes, but there are plans to expand to home health care. Once available for home healthcare needs, people would be able to monitor the vitals and status of their elderly parents from their mobile device — something that would provide security and reassurance to many people struggling with aging relatives.

Additionally, the machine learning algorithms provide numerous possibilities for patient care as long as there is accurate data. By utilizing these systems and the ML algorithms, much of the human error that occurs with patient care can be eliminated and will result in better patient outcomes.

Our next step in this ongoing partnership is to finish building out the software and firmware that go along with the devices. Stay tuned as BioLink officially pilots these wearable devices in multiple nursing home facilities and we report on how it is saving patient lives.

Learn more about how wearables and machine learning can improve healthcare here.

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Improved data security
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Timely patient interventions
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Improved oversight and reporting

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