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Radio waves help caregivers tune in chronic patients

By Eric Wicklund, Editor, ATA 2012 Show Dailies

ATLANTA – A type of technology once used to track spy planes over the Russian continent is now being used to help people and their caregivers manage chronic heart and lung diseases.

Sensiotec is displaying its non-contact patient safety monitoring solution – called the Virtual Medical Assistant – at this year's ATA 2012 conference and exhibition. Developed over the past four years with help from the Georgia Institute of Technology, the solution makes use of high-frequency, low-power, ultra-wideband radio waves that can monitor heart rate and respiration rate via sensors.

"A good way to refer to it is a low-power radar," said company CEO Robert Arkin, who pointed out the system has received 510k Class 2 clearance from the FDA. "Also, its safety is unquestioned."

Arkin said those radar waves are sent out, bouncing off the body's organs, and collected every two seconds by a sensor array that can be positioned on the ceiling, under a bed "or in someone's favorite easy chair." The data is analyzed by a cloud-based Virtual Medical Assistant server and sent on to caregivers.

The technology is designed for both hospital and home use, said Arkin. Aside from the touchless, non-contact method of gathering data, he said, the solution's value lies in the predictive analytic software used to chart and trend the results.

Sensiotech's solution is initially geared to help people suffering from chronic heart failure or COPD – two chronic conditions, Arkin said, that could greatly benefit from an "early warning system."

"Many events are preceded by changes – many times by minute changes," he said. The Virtual Medical Assistant technology "is designed to make sense of that data coming in" and spot problems when they begin, issuing alerts and allowing caregivers to respond before the situation becomes worse.

Sensiotec's Virtual Medical Assistant is intended to help caregivers transitioning to accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes – two developing norms of care that place an emphasis on proactively managing one's health. By monitoring people with chronic conditions who are susceptible to complications, caregivers can step in before a health crisis, avoiding emergency care or hospitalization. And by providing an easy, unobtrusive means to collect and transmit data, the probability of patient compliance is increased.

Arkin said the system is being beta-tested at three hospitals and should be ready for the market by 2013. In the interim, he said, he's hoping to expand the software's functionality to measure cardiac output and fluid buildup, among other conditions, and develop MIMO (multi-input, multi-output) capabilities.

While Sensiotec's system hasn't been seen in healthcare before, the technology isn't exactly new. Since being declassified by the military about a decade ago, said Arkin, there has been an "explosion of patent applications" for UWB-band systems. Among the early adopters is GE, which is developing the technology for use in imaging.

Sensiotec is at Booth 741 in the ATA Exhibit Hall.

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