Imagine snoozing comfortably at home while your bed measures your heart rate and breathing—and enters those vital signs into your medical record.

Imagine tapping an app on your smartphone when you want to ask your doctor about a new symptom.

As health care technology gets smarter—and more personal—patients will find new ways to monitor their medical conditions and connect with medical experts.

Spectrum Health staff got a glimpse of products under development recently at an open house organized by Spectrum Health Innovations. Two companies involved in the Seamless Accelerator, a collaboration of startups and industry leaders, displayed their new devices to get reaction from the experts.

A bed that communicates

Hoana Medical, a Honolulu-based company, showed off its LifeBed system, a mattress coverlet embedded with sensors that measure vital signs. It detects heart and respiration rates—and can indicate whether the patient is in bed.

Staff can view the data at a central nursing station or on a handheld device, such as a smartphone.

The device aims to eliminate the need to attach sensors, electrodes, cuffs and other monitoring equipment directly to the patient, said Edward Chen, president and chief operating officer of Hoana.

“I think in a med-surg world it could be beneficial to have this continuous monitoring available,” said Liz Schulte, an inpatient nursing supervisor at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital.

A rise in breathing or heart rate could indicate a patient is experiencing more pain, for example, prompting the nurse to check in. Or it might signal that a confused patient is becoming agitated, perhaps planning to get out of bed to use the bathroom.

“We can go in there and proactively act on that,” Schulte said. “A bed alarm is good only once a patient gets out of bed.”

The smartphone connection would be a big plus, she added. It would allow a nurse to view vital signs for a number of patients from any location.

The LifeBed system plugs directly into the wall, but also can operate wirelessly.

“It simplifies the process of having to move monitors,” Chen said. “It has been tested in ambulances and helicopters. Imagine deploying it for large-scale emergency triage on stretchers.”

The version displayed at Spectrum Health is intended for use in the medical-surgical, acute care or home care settings. A steady stream of nurses, doctors and therapists filed through the two-hour open house. Some tried out apps and lay on the LifeBed, watching their vital signs appear on a smartphone screen.

“I really thought the vital sign communication with electronic capability was great,” said Laura McPherson, pediatric lead therapist in respiratory care at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

The system would be even better, she said, if it could be converted to a hardback surface, which would be useful in reviving a patient in cardiac arrest.

“This could be the total package,” she said.

A doctor-patient app

Friendly Health Technologies of San Ramon, California, presented information on software and apps that connect patients with their doctor or other medical care providers.

Patients could log in to the app on a tablet or smartphone to report common illnesses.

The app asks a series of follow-up questions, using evidence-based guidelines, and enters the information into the individual’s medical record. The physician or care provider can then prescribe medication or request a face-to-face visit.

The company would adapt the software for different medical specialties, tweaking the questions to match the issues patients are likely to report.

“I’d like to see it in action,” Ginny Richards, a Spectrum Health Medical Group nurse educator, said of the telemedicine app. “It might have good potential for families that are reluctant to call.”

Customer validation is “an absolute necessity in product development,” said Brent Mulder, PhD, senior director of Spectrum Health Innovations. “If they get that extremely valuable feedback, it can validate their current course of action or cause a course correction.”

Spectrum Health is one of seven partners in the Seamless Accelerator, a collaboration that gives entrepreneurs access to industry expertise while offering experts the chance to influence the direction of next-generation devices.

About enhancing health

The evolving health care technology field encompasses a number of user-friendly apps and gadgets in development that will make it easier for patients to stay on top of their health care, said Eric Topol, MD, the author of several books, including “The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands.”

They include:

  • A bandage that monitors how a wound is healing and delivers medication when needed
  • A ring that detects when a patient is asleep or awake and can be used in at-home sleep studies
  • A tiny device that measures blood sugar levels—without a needle poke or drop of blood. Someday, Dr. Topol predicts, “Fingersticks for glucose will be obsolete.”

Already on the market is an ear scope that attaches to a smartphone. When parents suspect their child has an ear infection, they can capture a video of the inside of the child’s ears and send it to the doctor for diagnosis.

Consumer-focused “on-demand medicine” can mean more efficient care, Topol said at a recent speaking engagement. Research shows the average wait for a doctor’s appointment is 2.6 weeks. And once they arrive at the office, patients wait, on average, 61 minutes.

By communicating electronically with their doctor or running basic tests with their smart phone, patients can save time and often rest comfortably at home when they aren’t feeling well.

“It’s really about enhancing the health of humans,” he said.