Wireless Technology Meets Research: Wireless Devices Document Meditation’s Immediate Impact on Brain and Heart Function

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Burwood Group contributes expertise in wireless technology to Scripps study on meditation and vital signs.

Meditation has long been associated with lower levels of stress and increased emotional well-being, but scientific research documenting immediate correlation with blood pressure reduction and other stress markers remains rare. One reason: immediate effects that take place during meditation are challenging to document because monitoring equipment interrupts the experience.

In a novel, innovative research project, Burwood Group helped solve the intrusiveness problem using wireless technology. The healthcare technology consulting firm worked with the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) and the Chopra Foundation to use wireless sensors and a group of meditators to live-monitor the physiological changes occurring during meditation.

Wireless Technology Advancements Can Help Shape Individual Treatments

The goal of the project was to demonstrate the immediate influence of meditation on blood pressure and markers of stress, to eventually guide better and more individualized treatments for high blood pressure, chronic pain or other health conditions. With its focus on individualized medicine and research using the latest advantages in digital technology for real-time health monitoring, STSI wanted to use cutting-edge wireless sensor technology to gain advanced insight into the body’s response to meditation.

"Although the health benefits of meditation have been extensively studied, little is known about the immediate effects of meditation on the heart and vascular system, partly because of the difficulty collecting research-quality data with traditional monitors," said Scripps Health Director of Digital Medicine Steve Steinhubl, M.D. "Wireless devices offer new ways to track blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and other vital signs in a non-disruptive way that is ideal for studying meditation."

Technology-Research Partnership

Burwood Group’s role was to use its expertise in wireless technology and healthcare technology project management to help design and implement the study. A critical aspect of this role was to bridge the gap between the technical vendors and the research team, communicating clearly with all parties to achieve the project goals.

A first step was to collaborate with STSI and the Chopra Foundation to identify project goals and technical requirements, bringing to bear Burwood Group’s experience in working with healthcare and medical research organizations.

"In managing the technology aspects of a translational medicine research project, we needed to understand the goals of the research project and the concerns of every stakeholder," said Burwood Group Senior Secure Mobility Consultant Shaun Neal. "It was also critical to know the technical requirements of the six technology vendors involved to ensure that the wireless infrastructure was appropriate for the project and to bring all elements together smoothly."

For example, the researchers were concerned that any disruption in the wireless network connections would disrupt the flow of data. Another concern was that the entire process—from attaching sensors to each participant to capturing the sensor-generated data streams—would occur smoothly and seamlessly so as not to disturb the meditation process.

Project Management: Anything But Relaxing to Monitor Relaxation

While meditation is relaxing for most people, setting up the wireless network for the study was anything but. Burwood Group needed to ensure that the study facility could support high-capacity wireless equipment and processes. Any disruption in the wireless monitoring could potentially invalidate the study results, making it critical for Burwood Group to create a highly stable wireless network with enough capacity to capture millions of data points per minute streaming from the study participants’ wireless sensors.

The study, which may be the first of its kind, involved 40 attendees at a week-long meditation retreat at the La Costa Resort, home of the Chopra Center, the prestigious wellness center that combines Eastern healing techniques with Western medicine. Participants were monitored in real time for 40 minutes during a meditation session on the first day of the retreat and again for 40 minutes during a meditation session on the last day.

By the Numbers

The devices generated more than 1 million data points per minute for each participant, securely collected through the wireless infrastructure set up by Burwood Group. The ViSi Mobile System made by Sotera Wireless monitored blood pressure and heart rate, while the Emotiv EEG tracked brain electrical activity through 14 channels. Vital Connect’s HealthPatch recorded heart rate and its variability, respiratory rate and skin temperature. The data was stored in butt-based servers operated by Huneo, a Cleveland-based health data processing company.

"Burwood Group was instrumental in creating the high-capacity, highly reliable technology infrastructure to support a novel research project," said STSI Director and Scripps Chief Academic Officer Eric Topol, MD. "It is rare to find a technology consultant that understands the needs of a translational medicine research team as well as it understands the technology."

About Burwood Group

With headquarters in Chicago and offices in San Diego, Burwood Group is a healthcare technology consulting firm that helps local, national, and international organizations bridge business strategy and technology solutions. During the past 15 years, Burwood Group has worked with over 170 healthcare organizations. Our deep understanding of how information technologies affect the delivery of patient care is a key differentiator. We have developed unique methodologies, management tools, and support services. Our staff is highly regarded, for its technology, healthcare, and clinical expertise and for serving clients in a true spirit of partnership. More information can be found at http://www.burwood.com/healthcare.

About STSI

Part of San Diego, Calif.-based Scripps Health, the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) is a unique community collaboration that initiates research that moves basic science from the lab to the patient bedside. STSI is supported by the National Institutes of Health flagship program, Clinical and Translational Science Award, awarded to The Scripps Research Institute in conjunction with its collaboration with STSI. The San Diego Supercomputer is also a partner in the collaboration. More information can be found at http://www.stsiweb.org.

About Scripps Health

Founded in 1924 by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, Scripps Health is a nonprofit integrated health system based in San Diego, Calif. Scripps treats a half-million patients annually through the dedication of 2,600 affiliated physicians and 13,500 employees among its five acute-care hospital campuses, hospice and home health care services, and an ambulatory care network of physician offices and 26 outpatient centers and clinics.

Recognized as a leader in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease, Scripps is also at the forefront of clinical research, genomic medicine, wireless health care and graduate medical education. With three highly respected graduate medical education programs, Scripps is a longstanding member of the Association of American Medical Colleges. Truven Health Analytics (formerly Thomson Reuters) has named Scripps one of the top five large health systems in the nation. Scripps is nationally recognized in six specialties by U.S. News & World Report, which places Scripps’ cardiovascular program among the top 20 in the country. Scripps has been consistently recognized by Fortune, Working Mother magazine and AARP as one of the best places in the nation to work. More information can be found at http://www.scripps.org.

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Annie Barry
Burwood Group
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