With a bit of an upgrade, the barcoded ID wristbands that identify patients throughout their hospital stays could become powerful tools for improving their treatment outcomes—while at the same time, slashing healthcare costs.
It’s an idea that earned Bahar Behzadenzhad and Setareh Behroozi—both electrical and computer engineering PhD students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison—the final-round prize and a total of $7,000 in the 2019 Foxconn Smart Cities Smart Futures Competition.
“I work in the hospital. I see patients with barcode wristbands every day,” says Behzadenzhad. “We saw an opportunity to use Bluetooth technology for real-time patient monitoring and information transfer.”
Their concept hinges on embedding low cost and MRI-safe Bluetooth transceivers into the wristbands people already receive on hospital check-in.
It’s a project that draws upon the students’ expertise: Behzadenzhad researches antenna technology for MRI scanners, while Behroozi studies low-power systems for wearable and implantable devices.
Their smart wristbands could not only allow doctors to call up decades of medical records at a moment’s notice, but they also could help track patient progress through the healthcare system—and thus, provide a treasure trove of information to help hospitals operate more efficiently.
“Effective smart tracking is a brilliant example of how Bluetooth and the internet of things can combine to improve healthcare and patient security,” says Behzadenzhad. “Knowing where your patient is at all times can dramatically improve treatment.”
Bluetooth tracking also could, for example, offer peace of mind for the family members of elderly patients, minors or people with dementia—or tell care staff whether their patients have arrived on schedule to an exam room, or not.
“Sometimes treatments aren’t effective because patients forget about their appointments, get lost in the hospital, or take their medicine at the wrong time,” says Behroozi.
Smart ID bands could also help doctors make better treatment decisions in the moment, because patients’ complete medical history will be available right on their wrist.
That quick access to health records is crucial when a patient is unconscious or otherwise unable to reliably communicate with a doctor—or, when even the most cognitively capable patients omit or forget pertinent details of their medical records.
Better care for patients is only the beginning.
In the longer term, hospitals could analyze data about how patients move through their corridors, enabling the facilities to optimize staffing and resource allocation, improve layouts and eliminate inefficiencies—potentially in real time.
All of this is a wealth of data that, as of now, is largely untapped.
“There are already many companies that sell staff optimization or schedule optimization to hospitals,” says Behroozi, “But they don’t have the information or the data to back up the decisions.”
Moving forward, the duo’s wristbands could incorporate additional capabilities—such as live alerts to remind patients to take their medications, or accelerometers for activity tracking.
Currently, the students are working on incorporating privacy safeguards into their product to ensure patients’ information is secure.
They’re also continuing to conduct market research, and they’ve been getting an enthusiastic reception from medical professionals.
“There are many inefficiencies in hospitals,” says Behzadenzhad. “I see it every day and I hear about it from MRI technicians. It would be a huge thing if you could make those decisions with smarter data.”
Author: Sam Million-Weaver