John LaCourse, PhD, professor and chair of the University of New Hampshire's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has developed an algorithm to create a "smart" hospital bed that will communicate with other devices (i.e. X-rays or blood-pressure monitors) to monitor a patient's health and automatically make necessary adjustments.
To connect the small computers built into medical devices and avoid patent infringement, Dr. LaCourse plans to use a CANopen system, a common bus, or communication zone. If medical equipment manufacturers approve, the software can be implemented without any modifications to standard hospital beds.
"Medical errors are generated because devices don't talk to each other," LaCourse says. "What we're trying to do is break down that wall, work with the manufacturers, and see if we could get the common bus to be used."
For example, the "smart" beds could be used to measure and reduce the risks of apnea: If the bed determines that a patient ceases breathing, it will automatically change positions until the condition improves. LaCourse, however, envisions the beds having a "broad use," including blood-pressure measurements and respiratory and X-ray analyses, both in hospitals and homecare situations.
Anuj K. Dalal, MD, FHM, a hospitalist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, says "smart" beds are "an interesting concept."
"There is definitely interest in people trying to figure out how to monitor a patient’s status in real time," he says.
However, Dr. Dalal notes, there are potential consequences of relying too heavily on technology: "There can be a whole host of readings why the blood pressure drops. Moving the bed around could improve the readings, but it may not necessarily mean it’s improving the patient."