Technology commonly used in fitness wearables makes continuous patient monitoring possible, while simultaneously freeing up time for busy nurses.
The team behind this invention consists of four NTNU students who want to do make a difference. “Ever since we first met at NTNU, we have enjoyed developing and building things together, and we have developed various products for the consumer market based on electronic sensors. But we also want to make a difference,” says Julian Veisdal.
The team was inspired by data recorded by fitness trackers. They started looking into which functions it would be possible to monitor, with the idea to develop apps and prototypes within this segment, focusing on health rather than exercise.
They received invaluable support and assistance from their mentor/adviser Reinold Ellingsen at the Department of Electronic Systems in getting started. Everyone on the team is using this development project as a starting point for their respective master’s theses within computer technology, informatics, electronics and business development.
This is Moon Labs. They want to make a difference by making it easy to monitoring all kinds of patients that needs it – not only the sever damages ones. Form right anaesthesiologist and researcher Nils Kristian Skjærvold from St.Olavs Hospital/NTNU, Tord Åsnes with a sensor on his arm, Julian Veisdal and Vegard Theriault. All students.
From exercise to health
“The light used to measure your heart rate when you exercise can also be used to monitor the heart rate of patients, both in a hospital setting and at home. If the technology is adapted to use different types and wavelengths of light, it is also possible to measure oxygen saturation, respiration rate and body temperature in a relatively straightforward way. That quickly takes us into the health care sector,” Julian Veisdal explains.
Initially, the team had decided NOT to develop “anything” that had anything to do with medical technology. These types of projects are usually time-consuming and extremely challenging, and developers put down a lot of time and effort before they even know whether it is possible to take the next step. However, after a chance meeting with anaesthesiologist and researcher Nils Kristian Skjærvold at St. Olavs Hospital/NTNU, they were tasked with building some instruments for Skjærvold to try out during heart surgery.
“That’s when we realized it is possible to speed up the development process if we make sure to have the right type of expertise within the team,” Julian explains.
“Nils Kristian was surprisingly interested in what we were working on, and he wanted to contribute. He is impatient, and that motivates us to always keep moving forward, building prototypes that we try out for a while, before we adjust and do new tests.”
“We quickly realized we were in a position to really create something together, and the people in Julian’s project team each specialize in separate areas, so we are a good match for each other. When we started testing out various prototypes built using components from consumer electronics, I was surprised to see how accurate the readings were,” Nils Kristian says.
“This is really promising in terms of patient monitoring.”
“We are currently testing a small sensor that attaches to the skin of the patient’s upper arm, wirelessly transmitting heart rate, temperature, oxygen saturation and respiration rate to an app on his phone,” Vegar Theriault explains, pointing to the arm of Tord Åsnes, who is the lucky test subject this time around. Under his t-shirt is a small black chip with various sensors generating data.
“The market for sensor technology has really come a long way, and we believe we got in at just the right time,” Julian says.
Readings of heart rate, body temperature, respiration rate and oxygen saturation are taken manually by a nurse one to three times a day when you are an inpatient at a hospital. We know nurses are short on time for patients, so automatic readings of routine data will free up time for other things, while simultaneously providing better data. In time, these data could also tell us something about how the patient is doing.
This type of monitoring collects a lot of data about the body, so-called big data. Over time, this data can be used to teach machines how to recognize patterns of deterioration or changes in a patient’s health status, thus making us better equipped to interpret symptoms.
“This is the next step towards the goal of continuously improving, personalized treatment,” Skjærvold says. “Today, we have come a long way with treatments based on group data. We have developed standardized treatments for a number of diseases. If we are to take the next step, we have to get better at interpreting symptoms and fluctuations in the individual patient. In order to do that, we need more data to feed into large systems.”
The goal is to make this a standard product and make it available to most patient groups at a low cost. Today, only the sickest patients – those who are in intensive care or under observation – are monitored continuously. The equipment is advanced and very expensive. “We want to give every patient in the hospital the option of being monitored, to make it possible to predict the patient’s condition based on data collected by the sensor over time,” Veisdal explains.
Moon Labs, which is the name of the company, arealso hoping that their innovation will become a tool that can make it possible for people avoid hospitalization, while still getting continuous monitoring and follow-up. Perhaps home care nurses can use automatic readings to get an overview of their patients’ conditions before starting their rounds, visiting those who need them the most first. Another potential market includes field hospitals and hospitals in a number of countries that currently have no monitoring equipment. But they do have smartphones.
“Now, that’s a long-term perspective. For now, we are testing the product by measuring the heart rates of our friends and family members. The drawback to this approach is that most of them are largely healthy, and we don’t see changes in the data very often. That’s why we all thought ‘YES!’ when Tord got the flu, and we noticed that his resting heart rate spiked, from approx. 40 to more than 80 when the fever set in.”
Approval for testing on patients
The guys behind Moon Labs strongly believe light sensors have not yet reached their full potential. They are looking into opportunities of expanding their platform to include additional sensors, because the technology is developing rapidly.