Wearable Tech for Saving Lives

Seidenberg Professor Zhan Zhang, PhD, was recently awarded a $175,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue research pertaining to wearable technologies for health care workers.

Imagine you’re in the back of an ambulance and the emergency medical crew is tending to you—maybe they’re doing chest compressions, maybe they’re checking your vitals, or trying to staunch bleeding. Whatever the scenario, when it comes to emergency medicine, you don’t want the lifesaving team to take their attention away from you, especially not to make a phone call. 

“Paramedics need to keep their hands on their patient, so they don’t have time and ability to interact with handheld computing devices,” explains Seidenberg Professor Zhan Zhang, PhD. “My goal is to design and develop wearable technology that employs both voice- and gesture-interactions and integrates sensors and monitoring equipment to help paramedics collect and integrate real-time patient data in a hands-free manner.”

In the United States, there are nearly 20,000 reported emergency medical services (EMS) agencies providing emergency care to over 37 million patients annually. Management of critically ill patients (e.g., trauma and stroke) requires rapid information integration and decision making in diverse settings with limited resources and time. However, paramedics lack the mechanisms to do so.

The ongoing global pandemic has underscored the necessity for efficient and effective health care technologies—something Zhang has been thinking about for quite some time. He recently received a $175,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue research focusing on developing wearable technology that uses sensors and monitoring equipment to help paramedics collect and utilize real-time patient data in a hands-free way—essentially enabling them to treat patients in the moment, while simultaneously transmitting live-saving information to the emergency rooms that await.

Seidenberg Professor Zhan Zhang“Technology plays an important role in transforming health care,” Zhang says. “Many information systems used in healthcare today, however, are more like old-school cell phones—they are not easy to use and pretty cumbersome.”

His goal is to take us to the smartphone stage—creating health information technologies that are easy to use and navigate and would enable health professionals to quickly find and comprehend relevant information and then make informed decisions. Being able to do so could lead to streamlined workflows, better care performance, and ultimately, better patient outcomes.

With this NSF grant, Zhang is seeking to establish an interdisciplinary area of research that addresses real-world problems while also advancing the current state of computing technologies for enhancing human abilities to capture, integrate, and analyze critical data in a natural way.  

Here at Pace, Zhang’s research is also helping to establish a platform for integrated education and outreach. “A diverse group of students, including underrepresented minorities and first-generation immigrants, will be involved in this research work so that they can gain first-hand experience in research, user-centered design, and software development,” he says.