The opioid addiction epidemic has created a wide range of problems for healthcare professionals across the country and worldwide. One of the less visible problems is that an overdose patient is not necessarily safe once they are admitted to a hospital for treatment. The nervous system can forget to keep the body breathing, which quickly can lead to death. As a result, it is important to monitor a patient’s breathing constantly.

One tool for such monitoring is a contact-free device from EarlySense that we have covered in the past. It is a sensor that is placed under the patient’s mattress, which relays the data to an in-room monitor and a dashboard display where healthcare staff can monitor multiple patients. The system issues alerts if it detects a respiratory depression event. In a recent study, the system was shown to be valuable in providing constant monitoring. Over the course of 6,590 hospital days — more than 160,000 hours — the system issued 91 alerts for post-op and long-term care patients. These occurred when the patient experienced at least 15 minutes of a respiration rate below 8 breaths per minute. The study found that the system had a positive predictive value of 70%. The system produced only one false alarm per seven months of monitoring, which is important in the effort to fight alarm fatigue for hospital staff. And all of this is achieved without having to attach another wire or sensor to the patient’s body.

The EarlySense system can monitor a patient’s breathing around the clock, which will improve outcomes not just for overdose patients, but for patients who have received general anesthesia or who have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This could save lives and lower overall treatment costs for these patients.