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Philipp Grätzel von Grätz
HealthTech Wire

Clinical Articles

Your bed is watching you!

Chronically ill patients need close monitoring of relevant health parameters. But available equipment tends to be clumsy and impractical. This doesn’t have to be so. For heart patients, for example, T-Shirts and even bed sheets can be suitable monitoring devices. In the EU-funded MyHeart project, the watchful bed sheet and other devices are currently being tested.

According to WHO-figures, up to 45% of all deaths in the European Union are caused by cardiovascular diseases. Many patients with such diseases need close monitoring of relevant vital signs like ECG, body weight, blood pressure or heart frequency. This monitoring is increasingly done digitally: Many telemonitoring projects around Europe use conventional diagnostic equipment turned digital like electronic blood pressure cuffs or digital bathroom scales.

myheart2To simply upgrade conventional sensor technology for use in the digital world is far from ideal, though: Many patients don’t transmit their data daily as they should. Furthermore, some of the traditional sensor systems are not particularly suitable for telemonitoring. There is a need both for better devices and better parameters. “In the EU-funded MyHeart project we would like to evaluate whether there is new sensor technology available that can supplement or even replace current monitoring equipment in order to increase the quality of care of chronically ill cardiac patients”, says Christian Zugck from the Department of Internal Medicine at Heidelberg University, Germany.

MyHeart is an integrated project that involves institutions in 10 EU Member States. It is partly funded by the IST program of the European Commission’s 6th Research Framework Program – with 16 mn Euros coming from the EC and another 18 mn Euros from the project partners. Project coordination lies with Philips. MyHeart started in 2003 and will run until 2010. The project culminates in a clinical study that is currently in its final throes. “The study involves 200 patients with congestive heart failure from six academic centers in Europe”, says Zugck.

myheart3In the study, smart electronic textiles that have been developed in the first couple of years of the project are now being tested clinically. Patients, for example, get sensor bed sheets that are able to register changes in pressure and movements. “These bed sheets are primarily used to analyze the breathing pattern of the patients while sleeping”, says Zugck.

In addition, patients put on a textile vest for a 15-minute measurement in the morning. It features electrodes integrated into the cloth that are suitable to record an ECG and chest impedance. The ECG-data helps to calculate what is called heart frequency variability. Zugck: “This new parameter that is of considerable interest in the monitoring of heart failure patients. In some patients, at least, it might help to detect critical episodes far earlier than conventional parameters like body weight. This would lead to fewer hospital admissions.”

MyHeart, thus, is not only about new technology but also about medical science. It aims at bringing technology up to a point where it is both ready for the market and potentially useful in medical routine. The actual clinical benefit, though, will have to be evaluated later on: “Funding provided, we would like to do a follow up study after this one in order to test suitable sensor systems in a typical telemedical care scenario”, says Zugck. He is convinced that telemedicine will also have a financial impact on European healthcare systems. “We have been able to show that direct healthcare costs in patients with congestive heart failure can be cut in half by using telemedicine.”

Published on: January 20, 2010

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