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Vital Signs Electronic Tag Designed to Aid First Responders

VitalTag illustration

VitalTag (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

28 November 2018. A simple electronic monitoring device that adheres to the chest aims to provide basic vital signs data to first responders and emergency medical staff in mass casualty situations. The system known as VitalTag is a product of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, or PNNL, in Richland, Washington, which is seeking industry partners for commercialization.

The system is designed to capture an individual’s vital signs when emergency medical technicians encounter many patients at one time, from natural and human-made catastrophes. VitalTag is a wearable device with an adhesive backing, placed on the sternum, that measures blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate, as well as heart functioning with a single-lead electrocardiogram. The device also monitors for signs of shock, and an attachment placed on the patient’s finger measures blood oxygen content. Should any of these measures exceed specified safety limits, the device gives off a warning.

The VitalTag device connects via WiFi or Bluetooth with mobile devices or a laptop, where EMTs can monitor patients’ status and track locations of patients in real time. The larger VitalTag system processes the captured data with machine-learning algorithms to interpret the data for EMTs on the scene.

“First responders told us they need a device to continuously monitor patients in demanding environmental conditions,” says VitalTag project manager Grant Tietje in a PNNL statement. “VitalTag provides a wearable, cost-effective health monitoring solution.” Tietje is a former Air Force medic, civilian EMT, and Seattle police officer before joining PNNL.

VitalTag is expected to help EMTs better manage mass casualty situations, where now they are limited by the capabilities of equipment carried in their vehicles. Luke Gosink, a computer scientist at PNNL and a designer of the system explains that “ambulances have these types of equipment but usually only a few of each. With VitalTag, many more patients can be monitored simultaneously and continuously. More situational awareness, like that achieved with VitalTag, can result in better patient outcomes.”

PNNL hired its employee health care provider AnovaWorks to evaluate a prototype VitalTag device. That assessment includes comparisons between the readings taken by VitalTag and comparable measurements by standard medical devices found in clinics.

PNNL developed VitalTag under the Responder Technology Alliance, a project of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. While PNNL says it applied for a patent on the device, VitalTag is not yet cleared by FDA for sale in the U.S. The national lab is making the technology available for licensing to industry partners, not only as a emergency medical system, but also for military, athletic training, and veterinary applications.

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