Device lets patients record vitals while waiting for doctor

By Nidhi Subbaraman, Boston Globe

A Cambridge company that builds robots and records software for hospitals has now designed something new: a piece of furniture.

The new device, built by Vecna Technologies, is an armchair that looks like a waiting room fixture — but it’s outfitted with blood pressure cuffs, a thermometer, and an interface that looks like an iPad, which will allow patients to record their vitals while they wait. Vecna hopes to sell it to health facilities around the country.

Vecna’s specialty is software and hardware that helps hospitals collect and record information reliably — in makeshift health facilities in the developing world as well as in big hospitals in American cities. Last year, it tested its mobile software setup in Ebola facilities in West Africa.

Among the groups that have shown interest in the chair and associated software is the US Department of Veterans Affairs, which last year installed the chair in two locations, with the goal of using it in facilities nationwide. Vecna says other major health facilities are also considering using the chair.

Vecna vice president Bill Donnell said that the setup could deliver vitals to a patient’s doctor ahead of their appointment, and streamline how this information is collected and incorporated into the person’s health record.

The company has created two versions of this virtual welcome valet. The first is a kiosk, which dispenses a survey but does not gather biological data. The second is the seat-shaped Vitals Chair, which can record a patient’s blood pressure, body temperature, and weight, and ask a series of questions.

Having patients check themselves in could cut down on wait time, Donnell explained. The system could be particularly useful when a health care provider is dealing with a crowd, easing the demand on staff.

Perhaps most important, the company is hoping to streamline the data transfer process so that this self-reported information is funneled into the patient’s electronic health record seamlessly.

As a security feature, the chair does not store any health data. Instead, it transmits it immediately to the server. “If somebody were to take a Vitals Chair . . . they are not taking something that contains patient information,” Donnell said.