Although certain patients are monitored continuously during their hospital stay, most are only seen by nurses during rounds that can be spaced out by hours.
That’s because a nurse’s job is hard. Tasked with monitoring dozens of patients simultaneously, a nurse typically enters a hospital room and checks the patient’s vital signs during a quick physical assessments before darting off to continue his or her round.
People seem to agree that this is not ideal, but hooking every patient up to bundles of invasive leads and cables for continuous monitoring simply isn’t practical.
This dilemma is what makes the EarlySense solution so promising. The company’s sensors give caregivers a way to gather exponentially more information on patients, and they do so in such a discreet manner that patients may not even realize they’re being monitored.
“We provide monitoring for the masses,” EarlySense President Tim O’Malley says. “Our system is a surveillance product that’s not encumbering to the patient, so if the patient is feeling fine they can leave the bed without worrying about cables or anything else.”
EarlySense sensors are placed under a patient’s mattress, where they detect bed exits and subtly track patient respiratory rates and heart rates twice per second. That means in the four hour window when a nurse may not have time to check on a patient, the sensor has made nearly 30,000 readings.
Those readings can be displayed on a monitor in the patient’s room, a mobile device and a central station that can show data on up to 40 patients in the same window. If the system detects a trend that could place the patient at risk, like a drop in respiratory rate, the system sends an alert to nurses.
“In between those nurse check ups, things can happen to patients that can lead to negative outcomes,” O’Malley explains. “The sensor becomes a tool for the caregiver that allows them to see things without being in the room all the time. You can start seeing trends that can lead to earlier, potentially life-saving interventions.”
The idea for the company was formed in 2004 by a group of four doctors working in Israel. Three of the founders have children with asthma, so they were looking for a way to monitor their children’s respiratory patterns. The sensor they developed was able to detect a change in respiration and predict the onset of an asthmatic attack.
From there, the founders worked with hospitals to add cardiac pattern measurements and other features for medical-surgical and general care patients.
“The sensor is not the secret sauce of the solution,” O’Malley says. “The signal processing and the algorithms that were developed around the sensor are really what give caregivers insights. We’re able to build a big data set around the patient, and the algorithm’s ability to analyze a wave shape from, say, a cardiac cycle, is what makes it powerful.”
The company came to Boston in 2012 after former Governor Deval Patrick met with the founders while traveling as part of the Israeli Business Council. EarlySense CEO Avner Halperin had also earned his MBA at MIT, making him familiar with the city and its burgeoning medtech industry.
Official partnerships with hospitals were announced almost immediately after the move. One of EarlySense’s first customers was Newton-Wellesley Hospital, which now uses the sensors in over 150 beds throughout the facility.
Newton-Wellesley had seen the benefits of the sensors firsthand while working with EarlySense during clinical trials, some of which resulted in compelling scientific publications.
In one study published in The American Journal of Medicine, researchers concluded that the sensors decreased the average time patients spent in medical-surgical and intensive care units. It also showed a reduction in “Code Blue” events, which occur when a patient experiences cardiac or respiratory arrest.
In another study involving military veterans with spinal cord injuries, the company claims its system decreased Code Blue events by 50 percent and mortality rates by more than 80 percent.
“The statistics are grim for Code Blue events, so being able to prevent them significantly is a big deal,” O’Malley says. “Once these trends were realized the hospital [involved in the study] went from using our system on 30 beds to 100 beds.”
Today, the EarlySense system is used by around 65 institutions across the country, including hospitals, rehab care and skilled nursing facilities. The sensors, which can also be placed under chairs, are particularly popular at facilities with elderly patients or people with dementia that don’t want the look or feel of a hospital.
The company has been expanding the number of facilities using its solution by around 50 percent each quarter, and 70 percent of its customer base has repeat ordered, indicating they’re seeing the same impact the EarlySense team measured in its scientific studies.
Indeed, it appears the only people benefiting more than the nurses from EarlySense are the patients.
“Any caregiver will tell you they got into medicine to help people,” O’Malley says. “A tool like EarlySense gives people more insight than they could possibly get in a rounding model. At the end of the day we’re helping a lot of people be cared for in a much safer way. That’s what it’s all about.”