A Real-Time Wearable System for Monitoring Vital Signs of COVID-19 Patients in a Hospital Setting
Santos MD., Roman C., Pimentel MAF., Vollam S., Areia C., Young L., Watkinson P., Tarassenko L.
The challenges presented by the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic to the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom (UK) led to a rapid adaptation of infection disease protocols in-hospital. In this paper we report on the optimisation of our wearable ambulatory monitoring system (AMS) to monitor COVID-19 patients on isolation wards. A wearable chest patch (VitalPatch®, VitalConnect, United States of America, USA) and finger-worn pulse oximeter (WristOx2® 3150, Nonin, USA) were used to estimate and transmit continuous Heart Rate (HR), Respiratory Rate (RR), and peripheral blood Oxygen Saturation (SpO2) data from ambulatory patients on these isolation wards to nurse bays remote from these patients, with a view to minimising the risk of infection for nursing staff. Our virtual High-Dependency Unit (vHDU) system used a secure web-based architecture and protocols (HTTPS and encrypted WebSockets) to transmit the vital-sign data in real time from wireless Android tablet devices, operating as patient data collection devices by the bedside in the isolation rooms, into the clinician dashboard interface available remotely via any modern web-browser. Fault-tolerant software strategies were used to reconnect the wearables automatically, avoiding the need for nurses to enter the isolation ward to re-set the patient monitoring equipment. The remote dashboard also displayed the vital-sign observations recorded by the nurses, using a separate electronic observation system, allowing them to review both sources of vital-sign data in one integrated chart. System usage was found to follow the trend of the number of local COVID-19 infections during the first wave of the pandemic in the UK (March to June 2020), with almost half of the patients on the isolation ward monitored with wearables during the peak of hospital admissions in the local area. Patients were monitored for a median of 31.5 [8.8, 75.4] hours, representing 88.1 [62.5, 94.5]% of the median time they were registered in the system. This indicates the system was being used in the isolation ward during this period. An updated version of the system has now also been used throughout the second and third waves of the pandemic in the UK.