By mid-1963, American astronauts had visited space on six different occasions, all as part of NASA’s first human space flight program, the Mercury Program. During the final Mercury mission, launched on May 15, 1963, astronaut Leroy Gordon Cooper logged 34 hours in orbit, the longest an American had spent in space to that point. Still, very little was known about the impact that space would have on humans and spacecraft that were subjected to long-duration missions. With this in mind, NASA decided to follow the Mercury Program with a new initiative called the Gemini Program.
The primary objective of the Gemini Program was to develop techniques that would allow for advanced, long-duration space travel — a prerequisite of the ensuing Apollo Program that would put man safely on the Moon before the end of the decade. In order to carry out this objective, NASA worked with a number of companies to develop life-support systems and physiological monitoring devices that were critical to the health of Gemini astronauts.
One of these companies was Spacelabs Medical (now Spacelabs Healthcare, Issaquah, WA), the pioneer of what is commonly known today as medical telemetry. Spacelabs Medical helped NASA better understand man’s reaction to space through a series of bioinstrumentation devices that, for the first time, were capable of monitoring orbiting astronauts’ physical conditions in real time, from Earth.
The company went on to further expand its knowledge of monitoring and maintaining health in space, and then brought it down to Earth, to dramatically change the course of patient monitoring in the field of health care.
Spacelabs Medical was founded in 1958 for the express purpose of working with NASA and the U.S. Air Force on systems to monitor the vital signs of astronauts in space. As a prime contractor to NASA for the Gemini Program, the company manufactured and delivered prototypes of miniaturized signal conditioners to measure astronauts’ temperature, respiration, and cardiac activity. This technology was first worn by astronauts James A. McDivitt and Edward H. White II during their historic Gemini IV flight — the first American spacewalk — to assure proper evaluation of their health and performance.
After pioneering medical telemetry in the mid-1960s, Spacelabs Medical began making the transition from monitoring in space to monitoring in hospitals. In 1968, it unveiled its first systems for intensive care unit (ICU) and critical care unit (CCU) monitoring. In 1974, it launched Alpha, the first-ever patient monitoring system to incorporate digital microprocessor technology. This helped to make patient monitoring faster, not to mention more affordable, since complex systems could now be produced by using smaller, less expensive parts, with less assembly work. In 1979, the company introduced the first bedside arrhythmia-monitoring system, allowing physicians to view real-time arrhythmia data, by the patient’s side, for the first time.
Entering the 1980s, Spacelabs Medical delivered the Patient Care Management System (PCMS) product, complete with a system architecture — incorporating Ethernet communication connections and “smart” touchscreen controls — that was well ahead of its time. In the latter part of the decade, the PCMS product line expanded to include portable, color monitors and remote-access laptops, as well as Flexport system interfaces, which the company reports are the first interfaces to integrate standalone monitoring devices with a larger monitoring network.
How it Works
In the 1990s, Spacelabs Medical introduced Windows Dynamic Network Access (WinDNA) software that provides staff access to and interaction with medicine administration records, laboratory test results, any type of electronic report or chart located in other areas of a hospital, and any Windows program on a hospital’s network. It also possesses Internet and Intranet capabilities, which allow hospital staff to maintain schedules and check e-mail. By allowing seamless data acquisition and exchange across an entire health care organization, this technology improves overall efficiency and prevents caregivers from having to leave a patient’s side to obtain information that is physically located somewhere else.
Children’s Hospitals and Clinics in St. Paul, MN, has the largest all-private-room neonatal ICU in the United States, due in part to the WinDNA technology, which allows for around-the-clock, remote patient monitoring. This system is linked to pocketsized, wireless handsets carried by primary nurses, as well as designated backup nurses, in the event that the primaries cannot respond immediately. Instead of having an immediate-response alarm sound in a patient’s room, the alarm is transmitted, instantly and silently, to the wireless devices. This concept has translated into constant, effective care, all while reducing noise levels and room traffic, so that the infants can progress in a quiet, stress-free, and more natural environment.
This patient-monitoring technology has also been embraced by many other healthcare organizations, including the University of Illinois Medical Center, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children (Wilmington, DE), Lakeland Regional Medical Center (Lakeland, FL), the University of North Carolina Health Care System, and the University of Missouri Health Care System.
In 1999, Spacelabs Medical’s products became the first to operate in the Wireless Medical Telemetry Service. This service consists of frequencies that were established by the Federal Communications Commission and have been set aside for medical uses only. Because neither land-mobile radios nor television are allowed to operate on these frequencies, they are safe from radio frequency interference that previously posed serious risk to medical telemetry equipment.
Where it Stands
Spacelabs Healthcare today offers the Intesys Clinical Suite (ICS), a set of solutions that enables ubiquitous access to patient information. One component of this suite is the Vital Signs Viewer, which allows physicians to see a patient’s live waveforms remotely from any networked personal computer located outside of a hospital, such as a laptop set up in a physician’s offsite office or home. Another component is the Clinical Event Interface (CEI), which advises caregivers of patient status or patient alarms, via advanced communication devices. The company has also introduced a new, wireless networking option for its Ultraview SL compact, bedside patient monitors.
Under contract to NASA Johnson Space Center, the company has performed field tests of space-related telemetry equipment for use in disaster-response situations on Earth.
For more information on WinDNA software, visit http://info.hotims.com/28049-146 .