With mobile, wireless monitors, healthcare providers can help patients sooner, driving shorter hospital stays and, they hope, better health outcomes.

The FDA recently approved a chair insert that monitors vital signs while patients take a load off.

The cushion, made by Israeli company EarlySense, tracks movement, pulse, and respiration wirelessly through the patient’s derrière — but it’s more than just a novelty item.

Most patients brought to the intensive care unit have indications of trouble in their vital signs up to 24 hours beforehand. With more consistent monitoring, doctors and nurses can catch signs of trouble sooner and deliver, on the whole, better medical outcomes.

Hospitals sometimes avoid tethering lower-risk patients to conventional bedside monitors because the wires limit their mobility, increasing their risk of blood clots and pneumonia. Patients are also increasingly sent to transitional facilities after surgery, and those facilities are often not set up to monitor patients using conventional wires and tubes.

EarlySense is one of a number of companies offering portable monitoring with a layer of computer smarts to weed out false alarms before alerting hospital staff. Contact-free monitors — those that don’t have to be attached directly to the patient — are at the cutting edge of the trend.

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EarlySense earned FDA approval a couple of years ago for a contact-free monitor that sits between the mattress and frame of a hospital bed. The device uses the same technology, calculating the patient’s heart and respiration rate from subtle vibrations. Software filters out false alarms before alerting a nurse.

“Let’s say someone has had surgery and they start having some internal bleeding, their pulse will go up. If their pulse goes up, somebody comes and checks on them and they get more attention than they would otherwise. It turns out if you wait until somebody is about ready to collapse, it’s just a lot harder to bring them back to a stable state,” said Dr. David Bates, a patient safety expert at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a medical adviser to EarlySense.

In a study Bates led, published in the American Journal of Medicine, researchers found that in a medical-surgical unit using EarlySense monitors, patient stays were shorter than in a unit that used conventional monitoring devices. Patients who were transferred to intensive care units spent 25 percent less time there; “code blue” events, or responses to suspected heart attacks, were also less frequent on the EarlySense ward.

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“When the nurses go and check the person [using EarlySense], about half the time there’s something actually wrong. With an electrocardiogram, it’s about 2 to 4 percent of the time that something is wrong,” Bates said.

Software makes the difference, according to Tim O’Malley, president of EarlySense.

“We don’t just give threshold alarms; we look at averages so we don’t over-alert. When patients are eating, moving around, and interacting with family, you might get a heart rate that’s elevated, but one of our algorithms is determining whether it should be alarmed,” O’Malley told Healthline.

The monitors are being used for non-acute patients at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, outside of Boston, and Coffee Regional Medical Center, in rural Georgia.

EarlySense hopes the chair cushions will expand patient monitoring to extended care and rehab facilities and to hospital areas where patients wait for care, including outpatient clinics and emergency room waiting areas.

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