Advancements in sensor technology are helping to develop the field of medicine. As a result of incorporating sensors into healthcare settings, patients are living longer, experiencing a better quality of life, and gaining access to the treatments they require faster than previously.
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Here, we discuss how sensors are being used in different hospital environments and for different healthcare applications. Finally, we review what new advancements in this technology are on the horizon.
Sensors in Hospitals, from the Operating Theatre to Patient Rooms
Operating theaters are one of the most regulated environments in the world. Failure to maintain these rooms in specific conditions risks exposing patients to airborne infection, among other dangers. Studies have shown that heating, ventilation and air conditioning can significantly impact the risk of surgical site infections.
Sensors are being adopted to allow for the automated and precise control of the environment within operating theaters. Connected sensors can collect a wealth of data on environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, and pressure, as well as collecting and analyzing information on particles within the air. All this data can be used to generate insights into the quality of the environment. These insights can track, in real-time, if the operating theatre is being kept within safe conditions, such as those defined in regulations.
Sensors allow for automation. In recent years, hospitals have begun adopting automated systems for controlling conditions in their theaters, as well as the hospital in general. Automation prevents human error and helps conditions to be finely tuned so that they can be maintained at optimal levels.
In the patient’s room and at the patient’s bedside, a variety of sensors are used. Sensors are used similar to how they are in operating theaters to monitor and regulate the environment. They are also used to help operate medical equipment, such as ventilators. Finally, they can be used to help staff quickly and efficiently locate empty beds.
The Various Medical Applications in Which Sensors are Leveraged
There is a wide range of sensors that are being integrated into modern hospitals. Pressure sensors, door sensors, temperature and humidity, particle sensors, velocity, and more, are helping hospitals to be more efficient, improve patient outcomes, increase safety, and reduce overheads.
Some medical applications of sensors have been commonplace in hospitals for a number of years. Anesthesia machines, for example, are heavily relied on by hospitals during surgery. These machines utilize airflow, pressure, oxygen, temperature, humidity and magnetic sensors to help support the patient’s breathing and monitor their vital signs while undergoing an operation. The sensors help collect real-time data that helps measure blood pressure, heart rate, and more.
The importance of ventilators was highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The UK’s NHS, for example, was criticized for not responding fast enough to the shortage of ventilators that were desperately needed to care for patients with severe COVID-19. Without sensors, these machines would not be possible. They incorporate airflow, oxygen, pressure, temperature, humidity, and magnetic sensors to help patients suffering from breathing difficulty or who are unable to breathe. Ventilators are often needed to treat those with serious lung diseases or infections.
Oxygen concentrators are also required to help treat those with difficulty breathing, such as those with respiratory illnesses or lung disease. Oxygen concentrators use oxygen, pressure, temperature, humidity, and magnetic sensors to help those who are having trouble absorbing oxygen into the bloodstream.
Other common medical devices that rely on sensors include hemodialysis machines. These machines are vital for treating patients with kidney disease or kidney failure. They empty pressure and force/magnet sensors alongside thermistors to remove waste and fluid from the bloodstream.
The Future Outlook for Sensors in Hospitals
As sensor technology matures, there will be more applications of this technology within hospitals as sensor technology is yet to reach its full potential in this field. Much research is currently underway that is revealing future potential uses of sensors in this sector.
Recently, a study was published demonstrating the use of sensors for the continuous monitoring of surgeons’ cognitive workload while working in the operating room. The study showed that sensors could be used to monitor surgeons’ cognitive workload while performing surgical procedures. It is hypothesized that this data will be vital to understanding the complex changes in a surgeon’s mental state, and how this impacts clinical outcomes.
Additionally, there is much research into how wearable devices can impact patient outcomes. In recent years, wearables, such as smartwatches, have become commercially popular and are being used to encourage public health. They are also recognized in the medical sector and are being increasingly incorporated into patient healthcare plans. We may see the emergence of wearables in the treatment of hospitalized patients.
Overall, we will likely see far more applications in the medical space emerge out of advancing sensor technology.
References and Further Reading
Kennedy-Metz, L., et al. (2020) Sensors for Continuous Monitoring of Surgeon’s Cognitive Workload in the Cardiac Operating Room. Sensors, 20(22), p. 6616. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7699221/
Leenen, J., et al. (2020) Current Evidence for Continuous Vital Signs Monitoring by Wearable Wireless Devices in Hospitalized Adults: Systematic Review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22(6), p. e18636. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7351263/
Popp W., et al. (2019) Air quality in the operating room: Surgical site infections, HVAC systems and discipline - position paper of the German Society of Hospital Hygiene (DGKH). GMS Hyg Infect Control. Dec 4;14:Doc20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6997799/
O’Dowd, A (2020) Covid-19: Government was too slow to respond to ventilator shortages, say MPs. BMJ, p.m4594. https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4594
Schellenberger, S., et al. (2020) Continuous In-Bed Monitoring of Vital Signs Using a Multi Radar Setup for Freely Moving Patients. Sensors, 20(20), p. 5827. https://www.mdpi.com/1424-8220/20/20/5827/htm