Researchers track ICU nurses' activities using wearables

By Laura Lovett
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Using wearable sensors, researchers at the University of Missouri have developed a new method for tracking how nurses in the intensive care unit (ICU) spend their shifts. 

The method uses a Near Field Electromagnetic Ranging (NFER) system, where nurses wear nonintrusive sensors during their shift. Routers placed around the unit track the devices worn by the nurses so researchers can see what nurses are doing in real-time. 

“If we witness any kind of bottlenecks or see nurses experiencing heavy work loads then we can rearrange some of the process and it will help them to do their work much better and safer,” Jung Hyup Kim, a professor of engineering at the University of Missouri who led the team of researchers, told MobiHealthNews. 

Looking at nurses’ work flow and habits can be difficult, and has posed privacy questions in the past that keep researchers from entering the patients rooms, according to a press statement. This new system will let researchers see if nurses are providing care or inputting data during their time spent in each patient room. 

Nurses are often overburdened and have to do multiple tasks simultaneously, Kim said. The goal of this research is to find ways to use shifts more efficiently and design hospital units more strategically, he said.

The method was tested over the last five months at the University of Missouri's University Hospital ICU during the day shift. The findings are soon to be released, said Kim. 

Moving forward, Kim said he would like to expand the research to night shifts and more settings, and that there are many other potential applications for the method. He noted that nurse workflow has many factors, from how experienced the nurse is to how sick the patient is, which must be taken into account as well. 

"We knew when and where nurses were during their shift and what kind of work they did in real time by using the data we collected from the NFER system. I believe it will advance our understanding of ICU nurses' workflow," Kim said in a statement. "Future planned studies will cover full 24-hour periods rather than just the day shift, as well as extend the method to other ICUs.”