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Vital signs of the times

A new camera-based technology has been developed to monitor vital signs without disturbing the patient. Oxecam has been trialled in the kidney unit and neonatal intensive care unit of two Oxford hospitals, and there are hopes the technology could also be used in patients’ homes. It has the potential to save nurses’ time, but is not intended to replace them.

Picture credit: Denis Kennedy

Checking vital signs throughout the night can be time consuming and risks disturbing patients who may find it difficult enough to sleep on a busy ward.

Oxehealth, a health-monitoring company based in Oxford, has been developing technology that does not disturb the patient and saves staff time. The Oxecam uses algorithms that analyse data from video cameras to produce estimates of vital signs and other parameters. Using invisible infrared illuminations, the technology can work in the dark.

So far the focus has been on heart rate, breathing rate and blood oxygenation, with trials conducted at several hospitals, including the kidney unit at Churchill Hospital, and at the neonatal intensive care unit at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

The camera-based monitoring does not require any contact devices, allowing patients freedom of movement while providing data on vital signs.

There may be particular benefits for some patients, such as premature infants. Monitoring these patients usually involves the use of adhesive electrodes or sensors that can cause stress and pain, as well as potentially damaging fragile skin.

There are also plans to move the technology into the homes of some patients, such as those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or older people who do not need hospital care but could benefit from daily monitoring.

Sheera Sutherland is a research nurse at Churchill Hospital and was involved in the trial at the kidney unit. ‘Patients didn’t find it intrusive or a nuisance. The good thing is that we didn’t take any sound recording; it was just visual.

Enhanced working

‘Because we use a lot of technology in the unit I think patients were interested to see what the outcome of it would be.’

Other nurses in the unit were also interested. ‘Staff were keen to learn about the study, keen to understand what we were doing with the camera,’ says Ms Sutherland.

The company announced recently that it has adapted the technology to include checks on blood pressure and temperature. A trial of patients who have undergone cancer surgery will begin soon at the Churchill Hospital, where Oxecam will be tested on patients two to five days after major gastrointestinal surgery, in addition to monitoring by nurses.

Ms Sutherland says the technology is designed to save nurses’ time; it is not intended to replace them.

‘The technology shouldn’t take away from basic nursing skills. It is an enhancement to the environment we are working in, especially in assessing and monitoring the patient,’ says Ms Sutherland.

‘If the patient deteriorates, this technology could be key to picking up the deteriorations before anything happens, so it can be dealt with.

‘I have only seen it used in a research capacity and it was nice to be part of that. Hopefully, it will take off’.

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