Military-Designed Vital Signs Monitors Could Boost Remote Care

The U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research has developed a lightweight device to track patient vital signs in battlefields and other mass casualty situations.

Thumbnail courtesy of Athena GTX

A new military-designed wearable device is making it possible to keep tabs on a robust list of patient vital signs, even in the most remote and extreme circumstances.

The U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) has developed a device called the Wireless Vital Signs Monitor, which can be strapped to a patient’s arm, weighs less than a pound and doesn’t require internet access to work.

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Though developed for the battlefield, the system is now being used by civilian agencies, such as fire departments and paramedics.

Timothy Bentley, Ph.D., a program manager in ONR’s Warfighter Performance Department, said battlefield medics often must tend to multiple patients at one time. The Wireless Vital Signs Monitor enables the medic to monitor multiple patients, even while tending to or assessing individual patients.

“They are quite small and rugged, which makes the (Wireless Vital Signs Monitor) appropriate for use in the field,” Bentley told Healthcare Analytics News™.

“In the field” means not only battlefields, Bentley added, but wherever medical care must be provided in a pre-hospital setting.

Moreover, the monitor travels with the patient, meaning they don’t need to be transported in specialized medical vehicles or helicopters equipped with medical devices. Instead, patients can be transported in anything with wheels or rotors.

“This makes the (Wireless Vital Signs Monitor) especially appropriate for the Marine Corps, Navy and Special Operations Command,” Bentley said.

The device was developed jointly by ONR, the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research and Athena GTX, an Iowa-based medical device company specializing in wireless monitoring.

Bentley said the device helps fill a gap identified by the Navy and Marine Corps to improve trauma care in the field.

“Warfighters often go into remote areas where they are exposed to diseases not commonly seen in the U.S., such as malaria, dengue fever or Ebola,” he said. “Navy physicians and corpsmen, though highly trained, are often confronted with providing complex care with limited support in terms of specialists, medical supplies such as blood for transfusions and diagnostic medical equipment.”

ONR designed the requirements for the device, provided research funding and guided the development process. ONR then invited academic and industry partners to apply to conduct the research and development, choosing Athena GTX from the pool of applicants.

The new monitor will be included in a package called the Automated Critical Care System, which the Navy describes as an “intensive care unit in a box.” The entire “suitcase” weighs only about 25 pounds and includes the capability to provide drug therapy, resuscitation and oxygen, among other treatments. The kit also includes a stretcher.

Though the Wireless Vital Signs Monitor is high-tech, it was designed not to require internet access (it has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities for use when available). As a result, the system can monitor and store patient data continuously, no matter how remote the location, and then transfer that data to other medical record systems when internet access becomes available.

That versatility, along with the lightweight durable design, makes the device attractive — and marketable — far outside warzones and military bases, Bentley said.

“The (Wireless Vital Signs Monitor) is being used in the civilian world as well. Fire departments, emergency medical services are buying them,” he said. “They are also being used in state and regional government exercises in preparation for natural or man-made disasters.”

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