Smart wearable device monitors high-risk postpartum women

by | Feb 29, 2024

A cloud-integrated wearable device could help catch postpartum problems during those critical first weeks after delivery.
A mother and baby in a bed.

In the United States, around 40% of pregnancy-related deaths occur in the first 42 days after a person has given birth. Underserved populations are especially at risk. Black women, for example, are three times more likely to die during childbirth and in the postpartum period than their white counterparts.

Still, keeping women in the hospital for more than a few days after delivery is not standard practice; hospitals need space for new patients, and most women are eager to return home with their babies. Once they’ve been discharged, women who are at high risk for postpartum complications can no longer be monitored by their doctors.

“With the current standard of postpartum care in the United States being a follow-up four to six weeks after childbirth, many of these potentially lethal postpartum complications occurring in the 1st month are missed,” wrote the authors of research recently published in Advanced Science.

In their paper, the researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the College of Nursing at the University of Illinois introduced a cloud-integrated wearable device that could help catch problems during those critical first weeks after delivery to potentially save lives.

Real-time monitoring of cardiovascular metrics

The device attaches to the skin with adhesive and is worn over the sternum. “This wearable device is like a miniaturized band-aid,” said Woon-Hong Yeo, who co-authored the study. “But on this device, there are multiple miniaturized nanotechnology-based sensors and electronics.” These sensors, Yeo explained, measure important health parameters like heart rate, blood oxygen levels, respiration, temperature, and blood pressure.

The main advantage of the device is that it monitors multiple critical health parameters, processes those signals simultaneously, and uses the data to make inferences about the patient’s health. “We demonstrated that this device can remotely monitor if there’s any existing disease progression, and any other possible risks based on the measured sickness.” If the device detects a problem, it will alert the patient’s doctor who can decide what actions to take next.

The researchers’ study group consisted of 20 postpartum Black women divided into high- and low-risk groups. The women were considered at high risk if they had a history of heart problems, diabetes, blood clots, high blood pressure, or c-section. The participants were instructed to wear the device for at least 10 minutes per day for the duration of the 28-day study period.

In clinical practice, Yeo said the device would be used to monitor women similar to those in the high-risk study group: postpartum women from underserved populations who already have known health problems such as diabetes or obesity, or who experienced problems during pregnancy.

Masudul Imtiaz, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Clarkson University who was not involved in the study, said the device could have multiple advantages for these kinds of patients. “This might overcome accessibility barriers, enhance patient awareness, and allow for early intervention, making it particularly beneficial for underserved populations,” he said.

Peace of mind that’s comfortable and easy to wear

Yeo said the device seemed well-tolerated by the study group. “We didn’t get any complaints,” he said. “Because compared to — if you just think of devices that they have to use at hospitals — this device is a lot more comfortable.”

Leanne West, who is also a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology but was not involved in the study, said she thinks the research could be expanded to groups with other health concerns besides high-risk postpartum women.

“I would love to see it used in people with high blood pressure to continuously track their blood pressure,” she said. She also said that longer monitoring periods might yield more useful information. “I think 10 minutes a day can give you a decent snapshot,” she said, but she added that short periods of monitoring at multiple points during the day might provide a more accurate overall picture.

Imtiaz also noted that the device could have broader applications. “It provides a more comprehensive and accessible solution for monitoring a range of health indicators beyond addressing postpartum care practices,” he said.

“I want to emphasize that at the moment, there’s no available device like this,” said Yeo, adding that it could provide peace of mind not just for new mothers and their families, but for doctors as well. “They feel a lot better about their patients because they will know immediately if something happens to them, so that they can ask them to come to the hospital.”

Reference: Matthews J, Yeo WH, et al., Cloud-Integrated Smart Nanomembrane Wearables for Remote Wireless Continuous Health Monitoring of Postpartum Women, Advanced Science (2024). DOI: 10.1002/advs.202307609

Feature image credit: kevin liang on Unsplash

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