Meet ‘PECOTEX,’ a newly-invented cotton thread with up to 10 sensors that is washable. Its developers hope it can help doctors diagnosis disease and enable patients to monitor their health conditions
Wearable biosensors continue to be an exciting area of research and product development. The latest development in wearable biosensors comes from a team of scientists led by Imperial College London. This team created a conductive cotton thread that can be woven onto T-shirts, textiles, and face masks and used to monitor key biosignatures like heart rate, respiratory rate, and ammonia levels.
Clinical laboratory managers and pathologists should also take note that this wearable technology also can be used to diagnose and track diseases and improve the monitoring of sleep, exercise, and stress, according to an Imperial College London news release.
Should this technology make it into daily use, it might be an opportunity for clinical laboratories to collect diagnostic and health-monitoring data to add to the patient’s full record of lab test results. In turn, clinical pathologists could use that data to add value when consulting with referring physicians and their patients.
“Our research opens up exciting possibilities for wearable sensors in everyday clothing,” said Firat Güder, PhD, Principal Investigator and Chief Engineer at Güder Research Group at Imperial College London, in a news release. “By monitoring breathing, heart rate, and gases, they can already be seamlessly integrated, and might even be able to help diagnose and monitor treatments of disease in the future.” (Photo copyright: Wikipedia.)
Ushering in New Generation of Wearable Health Sensors
The researchers dubbed their new sensor thread PECOTEX. It’s a polystyrene sulfonate-modified cotton conductive thread that can incorporate more than 10 sensors into cloth surfaces, costs a mere 15 cents/meter (slightly over 39 inches), and is machine washable.
“PECOTEX is high-performing, strong, and adaptable to different needs,” stated Firat Güder, PhD, Principal Investigator and Chief Engineer at Güder Research Group, Imperial College London, in the press release.
“It’s readily scalable, meaning we can produce large volumes inexpensively using both domestic and industrial computerized embroidery machines,” he added.
The material is less breakable and more conductive than conventional conductive threads, which allows for more layers to be embroidered on top of each other to develop more complex sensors. The embroidered sensors retain the intrinsic values of the cloth items, such as wearability, breathability, and the feel on the skin. PECOTEX is also compatible with computerized embroidery machines used in the textile industry.
The researchers embroidered the sensors into T-shirts to track heart activity, into a face mask to monitor breathing, and into other textiles to monitor gases in the body like ammonia which could help detect issues with liver and kidney function, according to the news release.
“The flexible medium of clothing means our sensors have a wide range of applications,” said Fahad Alshabouna, a PhD candidate at Imperial College’s Department of Bioengineering and lead author of the study in the news release. “They’re also relatively easy to produce which means we could scale up manufacturing and usher in a new generation of wearables in clothing.”
Uses for PECOTEX Outside of Healthcare
The team plans on exploring new applications for PECOTEX, such as energy storage, energy harvesting, and biochemical testing for personalized medicine. They are also seeking partners for commercialization of the product.
“We demonstrated applications in monitoring cardiac activity and breathing, and sensing gases,” Fahad added. “Future potential applications include diagnosing and monitoring disease and treatment, monitoring the body during exercise, sleep, and stress, and use in batteries, heaters, and anti-static clothing.”
Wearable healthcare devices have enormous potential to perform monitoring for diagnostic, therapeutic, and rehabilitation purposes and support precision medicine.
Further studies and clinical trials need to occur before PECOTEX will be ready for mass consumer use. Nevertheless, it could lead to new categories of inexpensive, wearable sensors that can be integrated into everyday clothes to provide data about an individual’s health and wellbeing.
If this technology makes it to clinical use, it could provide an opportunity for clinical laboratories to collect diagnostic data for patient records and help healthcare professionals track their patients’ medical conditions.
Could biometrics increase security and safety of clinical laboratory patient identification and specimen tracking processes as well?
Positive patient identification is a common problem for all healthcare providers, including medical laboratories. That is why there is strong interest in developing technologies that use biometric data to identify patients. The challenge has been to find a biometric solution that has acceptable accuracy and can make the positive identification in a speedy fashion, particularly when the patient presents for service or to provide a clinical laboratory specimen.
One Canadian company believes it has a biometrics-based solution almost ready to bring to market. AceAge, Inc., a Canadian healthcare technology company, recently added facial recognition software to their Karie at-home medication dispensing appliance, according to Biometric Update. The Ver-ID facial recognition authentication application they chose was developed by Ontario-based Applied Recognition, Inc.
Karie (above right) is designed to help patients accurately schedule, monitor, and take their medications. The companion facial recognition software—one of several security features—will enable homebound individuals who use mobile devices or the Internet to electronically sign-in and notify caregivers that medication was taken as ordered, an AceAge news release noted. “Now, our end users can dispense their prescriptions at a glance and without worry that, for example, a child might inadvertently get access. This will help bring security to medication in people’s homes,” Spencer Waugh, AceAge’s CEO (above), stated in the news release. (Image copyright: AceAge.)
The new Karie automated solution, is expected to launch later this year. Developers anticipate that the facial recognition feature also could be of value to researchers in late-stage clinical trials, where documentation of medication adherence is critical.
How Does Facial Recognition Software Work?
According to Applied Recognition, Ver-ID uses an algorithm that is more than 99% accurate in detecting and recognizing faces. Here’s how it works:
A patient registers his or her face using the camera on a mobile device or camera-enabled computer;
The patented Ver-ID algorithm matches 75 points and creates a “facial print” or “signature,” capturing unique features;
Then, as the person uses their mobile device or computer, the facial signature is authenticated against the registered signature to control access to the app or device.
AceAge’s Karie device would authenticate the patient’s facial image against a stored facial signature in the same manner.
Fingerprint Readers Give People Identity, Care Access in Africa
Danny Thakkar, co-founder of Bayometric of San Jose, Calif., a global provider of fingerprint scanners and biometric software, says biometrics improves patient identification and is faster and more reliable than manual identification of patient records in a master patient index.
“The process of patient enrollment and admission becomes fast and hassle-free as a simple biometric scan is all it takes to identify and admit a patient,” Thakkar noted in a blog post.
In fact, biometrics technology has made it possible for residents of developing countries, without driver licenses or credit cards, to secure identity and access to healthcare services, according CNN.
COHESU, a Kenyan community health charity, is reportedly working with Simprints, a nonprofit technology company in the UK that makes fingerprint scanners for mobile platforms and charities worldwide, to implement biometrics for patient identification.
After having their fingerprints registered by the Simprints biometric scanner, Kenyan patients receive a unique identifier that can be matched to their healthcare records. Caregivers use mobile apps to access their patients’ health records and review or update them, CNN reported.
“Biometrics as a technology has completely changed our way of thinking. Without it, they would probably stay at home and accept their fate,” Nicholas Mwaura, a systems and database administrator with COHESU told CNN.
Hospitals Have Outdated Patient ID Methods, Says HealthsystemCIO Survey
Meanwhile, 42% of hospital CIOs acknowledged in an Imprivata/HealthsystemCIO.com survey that patient matching is a top priority at their organizations, according to a news release. Another 24% of CIOs surveyed said patient matching is not a priority, but it should be.
“Many hospitals still rely on methods that do not guarantee accurate patient identification, such as a person’s date of birth or a health insurance card. By implementing a registration solution—such as biometric identification technology—that accurately identifies patients and matches them with their correct EMPI (enterprise master patient index) and EHR (electronic health record) records, hospitals can reduce the very real risks highlighted in this survey,” Sean Kelly, MD, Imprivata’s Chief Medical Officer, told EHR Intelligence.
Clinical laboratory leaders already use processes and software to identify patients and match them with records and specimens. In the near future, biometric facial recognition might provide additional patient identification, safety, and medical laboratory security.
Industry analysts speculate that Apple might be planning to enter the EHR and healthcare related markets by transforming mobile technologies into gateway devices connected to providers’ EHR systems and patient data
Imagine a mobile device that monitors vitals while connected in real-time to healthcare providers, electronic health records (EHR), and clinical laboratories. One that measures the physical condition and emotional state of the user by casting light onto skin, and then records and transmits it with a swipe of the touch screen. Would such an innovation change how patients expect to interact with their providers? And how physicians, anatomic pathologists, and medical laboratories receive data from their patients? Certainly.
How this would affect medical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups remains to be seen. But where Apple goes, industries follow. Thus, it’s worth following the company’s activities in the healthcare market.
Bringing Clinical Data, Medical Laboratory Test Results, to iPhone
Mobile devices launched the era of consumer-grade fitness wearables. It’s not uncommon for a smart phone or watch to capture and store a range of health data generated by users. This can include everything from heart rate and sleeping patterns to dietary logs and fertility tracking. But, to date, much of that healthcare data is user generated and does not integrate in any meaningful way with the majority of EHR systems. Nor does it enable communications with primary care providers or diagnostic services—such as medical laboratories or pathology groups.
This may soon change.
According to a CNBC report, a unit at Apple is “in talks with developers, hospitals, and other industry groups about bringing clinical data—such as detailed lab results and allergy lists—to the iPhone, according to a half-dozen people familiar with the team.”
The report states that Apple:
· “Wants the iPhone to become the central bank for health information;
· “Is looking to host clinical information, such as labs and allergy lists, and not just wellness data; and,
· “Is talking with hospitals, researching potential acquisitions, and attending health IT industry meetings.”
Christina Farr, the report’s author, predicts that Apple could be preparing to apply its music industry model to the healthcare industry by, “Replacing CDs and scattered MP3s with a centralized management system in iTunes and the iPod—in the similarly fragmented and complicated landscape for health data.”
At a special event in September, Apple COO Jeff Williams (above) announced Stanford Medicine’s Apple Heart Study, which uses “data from Apple Watch to identify irregular heart rhythms, including those from potentially serious heart conditions like atrial fibrillation,” and, according to Williams, “notify users.” This is just one of several healthcare-related study collaborations Apple is exploring. It is not known if Apple is looking to collaborate with medical laboratories. (Photo copyright: Apple.)
Apple’s History with Healthcare Related Technology
Taken as a single event, these speculations might not convince industry leaders. However, Apple’s long-term investments and acquisitions show a clear trend toward integrating healthcare data into the Apple ecosystem.
· Engaged with the Argonaut Project and Health Gorilla (a centralized hub of healthcare data and information) suggesting a shift from wearables and basic device-based biometrics toward in-depth reporting, interoperability, and access to third-party healthcare data repositories—such as those in a person’s EHR or medical laboratory portal.
The Future of EHRs or Another Failed Attempt at Innovation?
Apple isn’t the only company to attempt such a system. Other efforts include Microsoft’s Health Vault and Google’s now shuttered Google Health. Another CNBC article notes that Amazon is also researching healthcare related options. “The new team is currently looking at opportunities that involve pushing and pulling data from legacy electronic medical record systems,” stated Farr. “The group is also exploring health applications for existing Amazon hardware, including Echo and Dash Wand.”
However, where most services fail to gain traction is user engagement. After all, if a system isn’t widely used or fails to offer benefits over existing systems, patients and service providers are not likely to go through the process of switching systems. Speaking with CNBC, Micky Tripathi, President and CEO of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative notes, “At any given time, only about 10% to 15% of patients care about this stuff. If any company can figure out engagement, it’s Apple.”
According to comScore, 85.8-million people over the age of 13 already own an iPhone in the US. The upcoming facial recognition features on Apple’s iPhone X might also provide the added security needed for those questioning the safety of their data. Should Apple succeed, communicating data between clinical laboratories, physicians, and patients might be both convenient and fast. More importantly, it might be the universal platform that finally provides health data access across the entire care continuum, while simultaneously improving access to providers and empowering healthcare consumers.
Of course, this is a few years from reality. But, we can speculate … would innovative medical laboratories have their patients’ lab test data hosted in the Cloud in such a way that patients and providers could access it securely, along with other protected clinical records?
Imagine how this would enable patients to have their complete medical record traveling with them at all times.
The Center brings together scientists from around the city to translate promising research into medical innovations to treat, prevent and manage disease
Gene sequencing is going big time in the Big Apple. Last month the New York Genome Center (NYGC) moved into a state-of-the-art, 170,000-square-foot genome sequencing and biometrics research building. New York City is putting down its marker to claim a leading role in advancing genetic knowledge.
What makes this development notable for the clinical laboratory industry and the anatomic pathology profession is the fact that cities across the nation are investing substantial amounts of capital to create their own genetic and biotech research and development hubs. Their common objective is to bring together all the expertise, financial support, and business acumen needed to create a job-creating critical mass in the fields of biotech and genetic medicine. (more…)