ON CALL, BY CELL
New tech system lets doctors monitor fetal heartbeats via mobile phone
If Dr. Paul Shelburne, an obstetrician/gynecologist with Albuquerque Health Partners, wants to check on a pregnant patient he can start by turning on his cellphone.
Since April, 20 doctors and certified nurse midwives who practice at Lovelace Westside and Lovelace Women’s Hospital have used Airstrip OB, a Webbased system that lets providers log into mobile devices outside the hospital to monitor real-time patient data, like contractions and fetal heartbeats.
The system has proven popular with doctors like Shelburne. AirStrip OB is “designed for physicians to be at the bedside even when they can’t be,” he says.
If a nurse or midwife calls in the middle of the night and asks him to evaluate a potential problem, Shelburne checks his phone right away to monitor a patient’s progress. Instead of a nurse having to explain the situation over the phone, they see the same data and can discuss what is happening with the patient at that moment. If it is an emergency, he can rush to the hospital. If not, he can make a more accurate judgment call.
“It’s kind of like I’m in the room with her and we can make real-time decisions,” he says.
During a labor that lasts eight or 14 hours, he might log into AirStrip OB 10 times to check on a patient, he says. If he sees something worrisome, he can rush to the hospital even before a nurse calls him.
“That 20 minutes can be life-saving,” he says.
AirStrip OB was created by San Antonio, Texas-based AirStrip Technologies. As of July, the system is used by more than 200 hospitals in 26 states, according to the company.
Last year, the company received FDA approval for two more remote patient monitoring systems. AirStrip CARDIOLOGY, which lets doctors monitor a patient’s electrocardiograph, or EKG data, is now used by hospitals in Texas and Florida. The second system includes information like cardiac rhythms and peak ventilator pressures and is designed to be used for patients throughout the hospital.
AirStrip OB works by sending real-time patient information to a Webbased system. That means providers must have Internet access and log in to see data. If a phone is lost, patient data is not compromised because it is not stored on the device, Shelburne says.
When providers use the system patients shouldn’t notice a difference, says Shelburne, who sees patients at Lovelace Westside and Lovelace Women’s Hospital.
Mothers-to-be still need to come to the hospital for fetal monitoring, either to check on issues during pregnancy or labor. AirStrip OB connects to the hospital’s existing bedside monitoring systems. Within the hospital, providers don’t need to use AirStrip OB because they can monitor patients directly.
When Amber Kirby, 28, who is expecting her third child in September, spent the night at Lovelace Women’s Hospital to monitor her baby’s progress, she was attached to a fetal monitor like any other pregnant woman. The monitor still spits out long sheets of waveform data — the same information accessible to doctors via mobile devices like iPhones, iPads and BlackBerrys.
Shelburne shows Kirby an orange wave on his iPhone that represents her baby’s heart rate. Below it is a white line — flat at the moment — that would show contractions if she were in labor.
By moving his finger across the screen, Shelburne can look back at a patient’s history to check for patterns, such as a baby’s decelerating heart rate, that might indicate problems.
“Your doctor can have access (to monitoring information) pretty much the second you go on the monitor,” he tells Kirby.
When he logs in, Shelburne can check on all of his patients at the hospital. Nurses also can add other clinical details to the system, such as whether a mother has diabetes or is on the labor induction drug Pitocin.
Knowing doctors can pull up her baby’s vital signs any time makes her feel more secure, Kirby says.
“I think it’s just a little more reassuring,” she says.