Students Innovate with Novel Telehealth Device

three students pose with health care device and mannequin

As telehealth visits become more prevalent, health care providers will need tools and devices to aid in their assessments of patients from afar. This is where the knowledge and experience of nurse engineers like Amanda Pellegrino and Garett Craig can play an innovative role.

Amanda and Garett recently completed  their final year of Duquesne University’s Biomedical Engineering (BME) and Nursing program—the first of its kind in the country. Their clinical nursing experiences coupled with engineering knowledge provides them with a unique perspective when approaching technology development.

“I gain hands-on patient care experience through the program while also learning laboratory techniques and product development. As a result, I not only understand what’s needed to enhance patient care and outcomes, I’m learning the skills and knowledge to develop technological solutions to meet these needs,” Amanda says.

Needs like those experienced in the growing field of telehealth. In collaboration with BME colleagues, Amanda and Garett created Virtual Individual Telehealth Appliance for Lung Sickness (VITALS), a device that could be used for telehealth monitoring.

VITALS was created with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients in mind since they are immunocompromised and may have mobility issues. This device provides a way to check a patient’s status (atelectasis, pneumonia, etc.) to see if they are experiencing any complications without the hassle of exposing themselves to others in a hospital setting. Specifically, the device captures heart rate, blood oxygen saturation and temperature. It also can capture and play back lung sounds for a health care provider to hear.

The device does have wider application beyond COPD patients, as VITALS could be used with anyone needing to have their vitals checked and monitored.

Putting It to the Test

Amanda, Garett and colleagues successfully tested their prototype in the School of Nursing’s Learning and Simulation Center. The preliminary testing focused on basic safety, accuracy, and validating and verifying the user needs and design inputs.

On VITALS, they tested the LCD screen, the sensors and the stethoscope/microphone apparatus. The stethoscope/microphone apparatus could accurately pick up normal lung sounds, stridor and pneumonia on the simulation mannequin and transmit the sounds via Zoom. It could also pick up and transmit human heart sounds. Through the testing, though, the team learned that certain adjustments would need to be made to improve the device’s accuracy. These adjustments include filtering out background noises and making the apparatus more sensitive to picking up human lung sounds.

They presented the device and their findings at the Duquesne University’s 2021 Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Symposium and won the Provost Award for Outstanding Research.

Although there are no current plans to further develop VITALS at this time, the experience has been confidence-building.

“When I see new technology being used to save lives at my clinical rotations, it’s really inspiring to think that one day I will be the person building and implementing technology for the same reasons,” Garett shares.

A Benefit to Both Nurses and Patients

A device like this could be hugely beneficial for nurses. Nurses are not only trained to deal with health problems but to also educate patients on how to stay healthy. So, in one way, the device could be easily incorporated into a patient’s discharge education. It could also help nurses stay in communication with patients during discharge, allowing for the continued monitoring of vital status and health improvement.

In addition, this device could ease the burden that nurses have in scheduling on-site visits and allow them more time to focus on patient care and satisfaction. With the current nursing shortage, this would help ease patient burden and improve care.


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