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Forget ringing the button for the nurse. Patients now stay connected by wearing one

Phil Galewitz, KFF Health News, KFF Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

Patients admitted to Houston Methodist Hospital get a monitoring device about the size of a half-dollar affixed to their chest — and an unwitting role in the expanding use of artificial intelligence in health care.

The slender, battery-powered gadget, called a BioButton, records vital signs including heart and breathing rates, then wirelessly sends the readings to nurses sitting in a 24-hour control room elsewhere in the hospital or in their homes. The device’s software uses AI to analyze the voluminous data and detect signs a patient’s condition is deteriorating.

Hospital officials say the BioButton has improved care and reduced the workload of bedside nurses since its rollout last year.

“Because we catch things earlier, patients are doing better, as we don’t have to wait for the bedside team to notice if something is going wrong,” said Sarah Pletcher, system vice president at Houston Methodist.

But some nurses fear the technology could wind up replacing them rather than supporting them — and harming patients. Houston Methodist, one of dozens of U.S. hospitals to employ the device, is the first to use the BioButton to monitor all patients except those in intensive care, Pletcher said.

“The hype around a lot of these devices is they provide care at scale for less labor costs,” said Michelle Mahon, a registered nurse and an assistant director of National Nurses United, the profession’s largest U.S. union. “This is a trend that we find disturbing,” she said.

 

The rollout of BioButton is among the latest examples of hospitals deploying technology to improve efficiency and address a decades-old nursing shortage. But that transition has raised its own concerns, including about the device’s use of AI; polls show the public is wary of health providers relying on it for patient care.

In December 2022 the FDA cleared the BioButton for use in adult patients who are not in critical care. It is one of many AI tools now used by hospitals for tasks like reading diagnostic imaging results.

In 2023, President Joe Biden directed the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a plan to regulate AI in hospitals, including by collecting reports of patients harmed by its use.

The leader of BioIntelliSense, which developed the BioButton, said its device is a huge advance compared with nurses walking into a room every few hours to measure vital signs. “With AI, you now move from ‘I wonder why this patient crashed’ to ‘I can see this crash coming before it happens and intervene appropriately,’” said James Mault, CEO of the Golden, a Colorado-based company.

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©2024 Kaiser Health News. Visit khn.org. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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