Hospital patients and residents in long-term care facilities can avoid injuries with the help of wireless wearable sensors that calculate the risk for falls, then alert clinicians to intervene and prevent cuts, fractures and internal bleeding due to falling.

Injuries related to falls are a significant problem in acute care, long-term care and home care settings. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, up to a million cases of falls happen in U.S. hospitals every year, but close to a third of these are preventable. Hospital staff already use a variety of fall risk assessment tools using subjective and objective data, and technology in wearable devices have the potential to augment these existing tools.

Wearable patient monitoring units are less cumbersome than traditional medical devices and equipment. Clinicians can work with patients directly without having to deal with leads and wires getting in the way. Patients are also more comfortable moving about to perform activities of daily living. Wearable devices allow more freedom of movement yet not sacrificing the ability to gather accurate clinical data. 

One such device is the Zephyr BioModule, with its BioPatch attachment, which is currently being evaluated by researchers at the University of Arizona Medical Center’s Interdisciplinary Consortium on Advanced Motion Performance (iCAMP) for its effectiveness in fall prevention among cancer patients. In a six-month period, a total of 43 patients were monitored for the study to determine their risk for falls. The group was picked because the patients’ conditions and longer hospital stay put them among those with the highest risk for falls compared to others in other units at the hospital.

The device can monitor minute-by-minute measurements of vital signs such as respiratory rate, heart rate, temperature and ECG readings, as well as the position and posture of the patient using an accelerometer. Up to 2 GB of data is collected from a patient every day and this is measured against an algorithm that calculates the risk for falls.

Its rechargeable lithium ion battery can last 24 hours on a single charge. The device is also IP67-rated to be water resistant up to 1 meter. The research team plans to eventually add alert features for staff and caregivers on top of measuring and recording capabilities.

“Our patients enjoy being a part of research studies because they understand these things strengthen our ability to care for them,” Jessica Schroder, RN, BSN and clinical unit head, said in a media release. “The Zephyr sensor is small and lightweight, and our patients like that it doesn't beep or blink at them like many other things they get hooked up to.” 

Remote patient monitoring wearable devices can be used by doctors and nurses to take care of acute ill patients who suffer from impaired mobility, special toileting needs, cognitive impairment and history of previous falls. Regular risk assessment and safety measures have long been part of standard care, but using wireless monitors can help clinicians track patient data remotely round the clock. Patients would not have to be woken up to take their vital signs but staff would retain the ability to be on top of everything even though they are not always physically at the bedside.

Outside the hospital setting, falls are also a common problem in residential nursing homes with many seniors suffering from cognitive disorders and physical frailty. The research group at iCAMP is also developing another project for this setting by using its body-worn sensors with accelerometers that detect walking or chair transfers among older adults. By studying body movements, these sensors can identify which individuals are at high risk for falls and caregivers can be alerted promptly to prevent injuries and hospital admission.