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Stanford Researchers Use an mHealth Patch to Measure Teenager Stress

Researchers at Stanford University are using an mHealth patch in a remote patient monitoring program to track stress levels and other vital signs in teenagers. The project aims to find a link between stress levels and teenage depression.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Stanford University is using an mHealth wearable in a new study looking for a connection between stress and depression in teenagers.

Researchers in Stanford’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science are using the Vital Scout, a Band-Aid-sized digital health patch that uses sensors - including electrocardiogram (ECG) measurement - to continuously monitor heart and respiratory rate, sleep, activity and other functions.

The patch was unveiled by California-based VivaLNK at the CES show in Las Vegas in early 2016 as a consumer product, enabling users to monitor their own stress levels for up to 72 hours at a time through a patch affixed to one’s chest.

The company is loaning the mHealth devices to Stanford for its research, which will track teens via remote patient monitoring for 24-hour stretches.

“Until recently, quantifying stress has been difficult,” Jiang Li, the company’s CEO, said in a press release. “Now with wearable sensors, quality data, and a better understanding of physiological impacts, we are able to provide a window into how daily activities affect our well-being in a quantifiable way.”

The agreement with Stanford is another example of collaboration between the consumer-facing digital health market and healthcare providers and researchers. VivaLNK is one of several companies – including Fitbit, Garmin and Apple – looking to bridge that gap by offering mHealth platforms that can be clinically validated.

Among the more promising form factors is the mHealth patch.

Just a few months ago, the San Diego-based Scripps Research Translational Institute reported that a patch designed by iRhythm was three times better at identifying atrial fibrillation than the traditional doctor’s office exam. And in June, researchers at Jefferson Health’s Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center launched a project in which a patch used to measure breathing patterns in people with asthma might be used to detect early signs of pneumonia in patients undergoing lung cancer treatment.

Researchers and healthcare providers have also been using so-called smart patches for medication adherence and medication management, as well as to remotely deliver times doses of medication.

At Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, meanwhile, a roughly two-year-old RPM program is using mHealth patches developed by Vital Connect to keep track of patients at home after they’ve been discharged from the hospital.   

“The evolution of digital medicine makes us even more confident in the home hospital model for our patients,” David Levine, MD, a General and Internal Medicine Fellow at Brigham and Women’s and the study’s principal investigator, said in a December 2016 press release announcing the initial study. “The purpose of this study is to show how we can deliver superior outcomes at a lower cost for patients who otherwise would be hospitalized.”

“We are in a very exciting era of medicine where clinical-grade biosensors and analytics are capable of delivering continuous physiological insight that was traditionally only available in the hospital environment,” he added.


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