In a time where social distancing is the norm due to the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare workers still have to care for sick people while keeping a safe distance at the same time. As such, researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed a device that allows healthcare workers to remotely monitor a patient’s breathing, movement and sleep patterns using wireless signals.
The device, which is called Emerald, has been used in multiple hospitals and assistive-care facilities including on a COVID-19 patient at an assisted living facility in a Boston suburb.
The device is a Wi-Fi-like box that analyzes the wireless signals in the environment using artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor vital signs, sleep patterns and movement. In the healthcare facility, Emerald was installed in a patient’s room where it monitored that patient's health and reported the data to a doctor who remotely tracked the patient’s progress by looking at metrics such as breathing and walking speed.
During the test, data revealed that the patient’s breathing rate had gone done from 23 to 18 breaths per minute, much closer to the patient's baseline. The data also showed that the patient’s sleep quality improved and that the patient was able to walk around while recovering from the coronavirus.
“When doctors have to interact directly with patients to conduct exams or monitor vital signs, each step along the way represents an increased risk that they will get infected,” said Ipsit Vahia, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Given how Emerald can generate important health data without any patient contact, it could minimize the risk that doctors and nurses will catch the disease from their patients.”
Emerald can also help detect other respiratory problems that would otherwise go unnoticed such as a patient that suffers from anxiety, insomnia or sleep apnea.
Because COVID-19 has such a strong impact on the elderly, Emerald could be particularly handy in distancing seniors when an outbreak happens. Additionally, the device could assist in expanding healthcare capacity. As demand on hospitals spikes, remote and detailed health monitoring could allow these facilities to triage less severe patients and monitor them in their own homes.
Vahia said that because of COVID-19, medical professionals have already started exploring new technologies for providing care from a distance and Emerald could be one of many innovations coming in the next few years.