Picture of the Month: ECG T-Shirts From the Peter L. Reichertz Institute for Medical Informatics
Our picture of the month April 2022 does not show a landscape on a distant planet, but a special fabric. The piece of fabric, which measures about four by two centimetres, can be found in various places on the inside of a so-called ECG T-shirt. It is used to measure an electrocardiogram (ECG) without the patients noticing anything. The Peter L. Reichertz Institute for Medical Informatics (PLRI) at Technische Universität Braunschweig and the Medizinische Hochschule Hannover is using this to research the future of health monitoring.
An ECG represents the electrical activity of the heart and is usually measured on an outpatient basis by the family doctor or as an inpatient in hospital. However, this approach entails some problems: On the one hand, the measurement with classic ECG measuring devices only lasts a few seconds and therefore only represents a snapshot. Moreover, the patients are in a state of rest during the measurement. Activity is not measured when they are moving.
“To make matters worse, the results are often printed out and not stored digitally. It is therefore difficult to analyse them again to monitor their progress,” explains Dr Nicolai Spicher from the PLRI. In the long run, the devices with their sensors are uncomfortable to wear. ECG T-shirts, on the other hand, as already offered by commercial providers, are much more comfortable to wear and offer more extensive possibilities for analysing the measured data.
Continuous health monitoring, in the private environment as well
With the help of the ECG T-shirts, scientists at the PLRI are working on implementing health monitoring not only in a controlled medical environment, but also in a private environment – and doing it around the clock. As part of the 5G Living Lab in the mobility region of Braunschweig-Wolfsburg, funded by the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport (BMDV), they are investigating how this can be implemented with the help of the new mobile communications standard 5G, portable sensors – so-called “wearables” – and targeted algorithms.
“The Institute for Communications Technology (IfN) at TU Braunschweig is contributing its expertise in the field of modelling and simulation of mobile radio systems to the research project,” says Spicher. “This will allow us to evaluate, first by simulation and then by experiment, the extent to which the new 5G standard offers added value compared to wired or previous mobile radio standards.” For example, they have already been able to jointly evaluate the efficiency of the 5G network in transmitting medical image material. Future work will investigate how efficient it is for transmitting ECG data.
To ensure that the solutions developed can also find their way into practice in the sense of a living laboratory, scientists from the Institute of Automotive Management and Industrial Production are also involved in the research project. “The colleagues are investigating how different interest groups, such as medical experts or interested patients, can be involved and how a successful interaction between science and practice can be realised,” explains Dr. Nicolai Spicher.
A large field test with fifty ECG T-shirts is to take place in Braunschweig in the summer. The first results will then be available.