Stress in the ER: How Researchers are Using Wearable Tech to Study Doctors in Action

By Samantha Devapiriam — October 23, 2020

Working in the healthcare industry can be an immensely stressful profession. Every day, healthcare workers are faced with making life-changing decisions for their patients, a responsibility that undoubtedly takes a physical and mental toll. 

Researchers at Keck School of Medicine and PM Pediatrics, a specialized urgent care company, studied the stress impact performing a resuscitation had on healthcare workers throughout their shifts. Two key body measurements were taken throughout the shifts of select doctors: heart rate (HR) and cortisol levels.

Doctors participating in the study wore a Hexoskin--a wireless vest that monitors HR using Bluetooth--under their work clothes. Oral swabs were used to measure changes in cortisol levels. 

Before the study, researchers knew that stress levels increased directly after a resuscitation. However, researchers concluded that stress levels remained high throughout the work shift of doctors, not just in the immediate time period after performing a resuscitation.

In addition to measuring HR and cortisol levels in the field, doctors also wore a Hexoskin in VR simulations of resuscitations.

“[Wearable tech] allowed our physicians to behave completely normally during their shifts and during VR.  It was a convenient way to download data as well,” said Dr. Todd Chang, one of the researchers who spearheaded this project.

Along with finding a non obstructive way to study doctors as they are in the field, this study is also important because it shows the potential for advancing healthcare and translational science through wearable technology. Products like the Hexoskin allow researchers to obtain critical measurements though using a less biased method of collecting data. 

It is inspiring to see how the spheres of technology and healthcare are combining to be a positive force for change.

“I am respectful to the idea that technology for the sake of innovation is not necessary; in other words, it should not aspire to be a solution no one asked for; rather, it is the solution to a strong and existing healthcare research problem,” Chang added.

NIH Funding Acknowledgment: Important - All publications resulting from the utilization of SC CTSI resources are required to credit the SC CTSI grant by including the NIH funding acknowledgment and must comply with the NIH Public Access Policy.