Photo: Prototype of printed sensor on clothing that could serve as an early warning system to prevent hospitalizations.
With chronic illness on the rise and medical personnel in demand, helping people manage symptoms at home has become critical to patients’ ability to take charge of their own health. One key challenge: self-monitoring technologies are only effective if patients can and will use them.
The UManage Center at UMass Amherst’s College of Nursing has launched a series of pilot programs that team nurses with engineers, chemists, psychologists, and computer scientists to develop self-monitoring solutions that empower patients to actively manage their symptoms. The program’s initial focus is on symptoms related to fatigue and impaired sleep in the chronically ill. One of only seven NIH-funded Exploratory Centers in the nation, UManage is exceptionally well suited to interdisciplinary work, according to director Cynthia Jacelon. “UMass’s intensively collaborative nature is the perfect environment to create a center like this,” she says.
Using the resources of the Center for Personalized Health Monitoring at UMass Amherst’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences, the nurse-led teams take a holistic approach that pairs cutting-edge technology with the realities of patients’ lives.
For patients at risk of fluid overload and lung congestion, Beth Henneman, nursing, is leading a team developing clothing with sensors that could serve as an early warning system to prevent hospitalizations. Its fabric must be comfortable to wear and its data easy to read. In addition, says Jenna Marquard, professor of engineering and director of the center’s Human Factors Core, “The systems must improve users’ cognition, so they know why and how to change their behaviors.”
Jacelon agrees. “Patients benefit by being empowered to act on their own behalf,” she says. “It’s so much more than just following doctor’s orders. The nurse knows what the person with the health problem needs, the engineer knows how to create equipment, the computer scientist knows how to get the data out, and the psychologist knows how to interpret that data. They all bring their unique expertise to solve the problem.”