Fieldset
Innovation: How WiFi could help our patients breathe more easily

From “smart” doorbells to thermostat apps, technology increasingly allows us to monitor and control our homes remotely. In war-torn Yemen, where the demands on our staff are large and room for error is small, one of our team is asking, could this work for hospitals too?

In my first blog post, I explained that oxygen is a crucial part of treatment for some of the sickest patients in our hospital.

As a biomedical scientist with Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF), part of my role is to ensure that oxygen concentrators – which convert the air around us into medical grade oxygen – are always in good working order. They help save lives.

But as the need for medical oxygen grows, maintaining these vital machines becomes more challenging.

The internet of things

The “Internet of things” is the technology that allows everyday objects to be interconnected with a computer.

Our project aims to connect the hospital’s oxygen concentrators to an app, allowing the biomedical team to easily monitor all the concentrators in the different wards of the hospital, and to take action fast if something goes wrong.

In this video demonstration, we are testing our hardware prototype for the first time.

How it works

The hardware consists of ESP32 Wi-Fi-microcontroller, oxygen sensor, temperature sensor and real-time clock. Hardware like this can be challenging to find of in lots of the places where MSF works (including here in Yemen), but it’s readily available elsewhere.

When you have a high number of concentrators inside the hospital, this can save a huge amount of time for the team, which can then be invested in other ways of improving care for our patients.

The sensors gather information such as the concentration of the oxygen, the number of hours the machine has been working, and the temperature of the compressor. This information is passed to the microcontroller and converted into a readable form of data, then sent via Wi-Fi to an application on a laptop.  

On the laptop, the data is displayed in a simple dashboard with each of the different values in its own specific feed. The values are updated on the dashboard every eight seconds.

Real-time data

Having this real-time data about an operating oxygen machine will allow us to track its performance online without the need to go and check it physically.

When you have a high number of concentrators inside the hospital, this can save a huge amount of time for the team, which can then be invested in other ways of improving care for our patients.

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Having the data will also allow us to be more accurate. For example: the hour-counter tells us exactly how long an oxygen concentrator has been running. And, by tracking this, we can determine when the machine will next need to be serviced.

This preventative maintenance work reduces the risk of a sudden breakdown, making it easier to ensure that oxygen is always available when patients need it.

Responding fast

The device would also let us respond fast if something did go wrong.

Within the dashboard, we can set up a trigger whenever the value of a certain feed reaches a certain value. For example, if the oxygen percentage is less than 80 percent.

When this happens, the trigger could be an email which is sent automatically to the team, or a message published in another feed on the dashboard itself.

Even if an oxygen concentrator broke down for some reason, having the stored data would mean we could review the history of oxygen concentration and the compressor temperature to help us in troubleshooting the error. That could mean getting the machine back to providing life-saving oxygen for our patients even faster.

Next steps

Having built the prototype, the next step is to test and validate its stability and accuracy in the lab, without being connected to patients.

We’ll see what challenges come up during this testing period, and I’ll share how we get on in my next blog post.

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