Wearable lifesaving ‘sticker’ will help spot changes in patients’ breathing

Date posted: December 22, 2021
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Wearable Sticker

A wearable ‘sticker’ is being developed which will attach to patients to detect changes in breathing rate and patterns and act as an early warning sensor for declining health.

The project, involving Nottingham Trent University, the University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton, will create a wearable capable of continuously, accurately and remotely monitoring respiration.

Respiratory rate – the number of breaths per minute – is the only vital sign that is not routinely measured by a machine, but it is known to be an effective early indicator of deterioration in a patient’s health.

Changes in breathing rate can be the single earliest sign of patient deterioration in a number of diseases, including sepsis and COVID-19.

The device, which will be about the size of a watch face with a thin respiratory sensor, will be highly sensitive to expansion and contraction of the lungs, without even needing to be in direct contact with the skin.

It is based on the principle of a ‘capacitive reflector’, a device originally developed by NASA as a proximity sensor for collision detection in robots.

The team’s earlier work has found that by attaching such a device to the chest, it is possible to detect breathing patterns in people.

Currently breathing rate is measured in hospitals by nurses manually counting the number of breaths taken per minute.

This is measured every four to six hours, which can introduce delays to detecting changes and potential treatment.

Chest-band or facemask systems are available for measuring respiration rate continuously but and can be invasive and uncomfortable for use over long periods of time.

The new device would continuously and accurately monitor breathing rate and be wirelessly interfaced to display data onto dedicated smartphone or tablet app for the healthcare team to use as an early warning system.

The system, which will be low cost and mass manufacturable, will also display a patient’s profile history of respiration rate to enable longer-term trends to be monitored.

As well as being vital for routine measurement in hospitals, the device could also be worn by patients or even healthy people who live at home.

After development, there will be a clinical trial with the aim of achieving regulatory approval within the NHS.

Dr Yang Wei, an expert in electronic textiles and electronic engineering in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology said:

“Changes in breathing rate almost always precede changes in other vital signs and the earlier these changes are detected, the more effective the treatment and the more deaths can be reduced. Unlike a patient’s other vital signs, respiration just can’t be measured routinely currently as the technology is not currently there.”

The three-year project will involve clinicians and engineers and there will be public and patient involvement to help ensure optimal performance and comfort of the device.

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