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The topics in this series were developed by New Scientist in conjunction with Philips, which paid for them to be produced
IF YOU have ever had to stay on a hospital ward, you will know how stressful it can be, no matter how caring and professional the medical staff. Besides the boredom and loneliness, there’s the noise and lack of privacy.
Help is at hand, however, as a new type of hospital ward is beginning to open its doors. The difference is that in this ward, patients stay at home. The idea is to use the home as a “virtual” ward. Instead of staying in hospital longer than is strictly necessary, people go home to recover once they are out of danger.
But out of sight does not mean out of mind: medical teams still visit regularly – perhaps to re-dress wounds, give injections, provide physiotherapy or check blood pressure. And more high-tech virtual wards can use advanced telehealth devices, meaning people are issued with innovative wireless sensors that track their vital signs. These devices can continually feed data to cloud-based services, where predictive algorithms issue alerts if someone seems to be at risk of a serious health event, such as a heart attack. In this case, an emergency team can speed to the person’s home to intervene.
Virtual wards allow people to monitor the parameters relevant to such conditions using a variety of wireless vital-sign monitors that communicate with a tablet computer via Bluetooth. The sensors include blood pressure cuffs, blood glucose level meters, pulse oximeters that measure blood oxygen levels, heart rate monitors and even wireless weight and body fat scales./.../