At-home monitoring devices, tools play leading role in patient care during pandemic

When you think of the San Francisco Bay Area, those young, tech-savvy college graduates who work for some of the world’s largest software companies there may first come to mind. But this bustling metropolitan area is also home to nearly 1.5 million people age 65 and older.

So when the city went into its first lockdown in March to try to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, many older adults who receive cardiology care at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center started worrying about their doctors’ appointments. And some of their doctors did, too. How could they diagnose their patients, they wondered, without laying hands on them?

But they didn’t have to worry for long. To the doctors’ amazement, the patients soon became tech wizards, communicating through telemedicine services and recording important patient information with wearable devices.

That unexpected turn of events signaled a trend now happening across the country as a result of the coronavirus crisis: accelerated use of virtual spaces for routine medical appointments. As more and more patients become receptive and adaptive to such at-home monitoring devices during the pandemic, Liviu Klein, a cardiologist at UCSF, speculates that these tools are likely here to stay.

Klein is one of many investigators supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) who are designing and implementing new technologies so that adults with preexisting conditions can monitor their heart and lung function from the comfort of their own homes. He has worked with Omer Inan, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Georgia Tech, and Mozziyar Etemadi, research assistant professor of bioengineering and anesthesiology at Northwestern University, to design a wearable device that is addressing some patients’ worries and risks. The device continuously tracks how a patient’s heart responds to daily activities, like walking or climbing stairs. It allows people with heart failure to perform mini stress tests at home by measuring small movements of the chest wall every time the heart beats. The movements resemble the seismic vibrations of the earth after an earthquake—but markedly smaller.

Read more about the team’s work on the NHLBI website