A Wearable for Opioid Patients Gets Retooled for Covid-19

In a mid-March press conference on New York City’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio detailed the city’s plan to transform public spaces to treat an influx of patients: “We’re getting into a situation where the only analogy is war.”

As confirmed cases in the US pass 100,000, some hospitals are establishing field hospitals in cabins and convention centers, while others are turning wings of their facility into dedicated quarantine or Covid-19 treatment areas. They hope the additional space will help prevent burdened healthcare systems from being overwhelmed.

“They'll take a parking lot and put up a tent and turn it into an ICU,” de Blasio said. “We’ll turn a cafeteria into an ICU. In a wartime dynamic, you turn all sorts of facilities into something else.”

But the space problem is partially an information problem, too. Sick patients need their vitals recorded and their symptoms monitored, and staff needs to get updates if someone’s condition starts to worsen (from fever and cough to shortness of breath as blood oxygen levels fall). Not every bed is equipped for monitoring, particularly field beds in temporary spaces. As hospitals are stretched thin, caring for the sick while also trying to reserve beds only for the seriously ill, a new telemedicine device offers both remote monitoring and help in reallocating resources for the coming surge of patients.

The Masimo SafetyNet is a wearable similar to a wristwatch with a disposable fingertip attachment usable either by patients in traditional or ad hoc hospital beds or by sick individuals who have been seen and sent home. It continuously monitors a patient’s pulse, breathing, and blood oxygen levels. If it detects shallow breathing or an unnaturally slow or accelerated pulse, it alerts caregivers and hospital staff.

Photograph: Masimo
At any point, a caregiver or the patient themselves can view their own vitals. For users at home, staff can set the app to ping users twice a day, asking them to note if their symptoms have changed. If vitals fall within alarm parameters, the smartphone app immediately alerts the designated caregiver. If that person doesn't respond, the hospital is alerted. "This way, the caregivers can go about their normal days and only get alerts, only pay attention when they need to,” explains Joe Kiani, inventor and founder of Masimo. “And then, if for some reason they don't respond within a period, it elevates the alarm to other care providers.”