Nurses may soon be able to see’ patient vital signs

High-tech system turns data into visual models

An artificial computer intelligence system that can collect thousands of data bits on patients’ vital signs in the ICU, converting them into easy-to-read three-dimensional graphic models is currently being tested.

The technology will enable nurses and other clinicians to quickly detect potentially dangerous deviations from a patient’s normal or ideal vital signs and would allow sufficient time to remedy the situation if a problem were to exist.

Nurses also would save time when routinely monitoring critically-ill patients. Instead of periodically recording each patient’s vitals and having the data analyzed and periodically interpreted by physicians, the intelligence tool permits faster readings and data analysis.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center in Philadelphia presented the "smart" ICU monitoring system at a meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists last October. However, the technology is not yet ready for practical applications, and it may be a while before it is put into actual use.

"We’ve designed a system that takes accepted, available information and translates it into a graphic analysis that can spot dangerous deviations from ideal’ vital-sign ranges and remedy problems quickly," says C. William Hanson III, MD, chief of anesthesia and critical care medicine at UPMC.

The computer application collects patient data such as heart rate, blood pressure, and blood flow measurements and converts the vital signs into graphic models that can be instantly viewed and analyzed. When downloaded, nurses get a visual picture of the vital signs in the form of colored graphs for comparisons.

The system utilizes neural networks and fuzzy logic — two common artificial computer intelligence tools used in other industries to assist in running elevators, air conditioning units, and subway systems. The tools collect key data that can alert managers of changes in conditions that could affect consumers.