Researchers at the Technical University of Munich in Germany have developed a telemedicine system for high-risk COVID-19 patients who are isolating at home. The system consists of an ear sensor that monitors a variety of physiological parameters, including heart rate, respiration, oxygen saturation, and body temperature. The project also involves clinicians calling the patient daily to check in with them. Patients may not realize that their condition is deteriorating until it is too late, and the telemedicine system aims to alert clinicians ahead of time, allowing them to intervene early.
COVID-19 can be particularly dangerous for certain high-risk patients, including elderly patients and those with specific pre-existing health conditions. However, there simply isn’t enough space or resources in healthcare facilities for clinicians to monitor every high-risk patient closely, and the more patients there are in a hospital the harder it is to contain the infection and prevent transmission to hospital staff and other patients. In practice, most high-risk patients self-isolate at home and are expected to call their doctor if their condition becomes worse.
However, patients can begin to deteriorate without noticing and by the time they realize that something is amiss, the chance for early life-saving treatment may have been missed. To address this, these researchers have developed a remote monitoring system that can monitor certain physiological variables to spot disease progression in COVID-19 patients who are self-isolating at home.
The new system consists of a small sensor that is worn behind the ear, just like a hearing aid. The device monitors heart rate, respiration, oxygen saturation and body temperature and sends these data to a telemedicine center in a nearby hospital every fifteen minutes. Clinicians can call the patient daily to check in with them, but if they notice a deterioration based on the sensor data then they can take action by recommending immediate hospitalization.
So far, the researchers have tested the technology in 150 high-risk COVID-19 patients in Germany, with approximately 1 in 8 patients requiring hospitalization. Interestingly, most of these patients had not realized that their condition had deteriorated when doctors called them to ask if they could come to hospital.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study worldwide to continuously monitor patients in home isolation remotely and to prompt immediate hospitalization in the event of critical health deterioration,” said Prof. Georg Schmidt, a researcher involved in the study.
Study in journal PLOS One: Remote monitoring of COVID-19 positive high-risk patients in domestic isolation: A feasibility study