Hot or not: A new device for treating temperature-related emergencies

May 29, 2024

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers rely on an array of life-supporting interventions to provide on-the-spot care to patients. Yet they lack a way to accurately measure a patient’s core body temperature (CBT), or the temperature of the body’s internal organs, on the scene or en route to the hospital. Assessing CBT helps medics quickly understand what is going on inside the body so they can make critical treatment decisions.

A team of Johns Hopkins biomedical engineering students is developing a non-invasive sensor capable of quickly and accurately measuring CBT in prehospital settings, giving medics the real-time information they need to start lifesaving interventions before or during transit to the hospital, when every second counts. Led by third-year students Jack Coursen and Ryan Chou, the ParaMetric design team will present its innovation at the Whiting School of Engineering’s annual Design Day on May 1.

“The current gold standard methods for obtaining core body temperatures in prehospital settings are ineffective either because they are invasive, inaccurate, or disrupt EMS workflows. We thought that together our team had the right skills and background to develop a worthwhile solution and saw this as a cool opportunity to introduce a new technology for EMS providers so they can focus on saving more lives,” said Coursen, who worked with Chou, Lisa Hou, Sun Moon, Betania Arce, Jaden Tepper, Prisha Rathi, and Adam Kleshchelski on the project.

After talking to licensed paramedics and clinical mentors in emergency medicine, the team designed a small and non-invasive sensor that, when placed behind the ear, calculates the patient’s CBT measurement — using a system of internal heating and cooling elements — to bring the core temperature to the surface of the skin. The students say that the device represents an improvement on current methods because it measures core body temperature without the need to be placed on the core body region.

“Hypothermia and hyperthermia have a multitude of life-threatening complications, affecting around 4.3 million patients a year, and that’s a huge drain on hospital resources,” said Chou. “Designing an effective solution that is easily integrated into the EMS workflow will improve patient outcomes by providing a tool to direct and validate treatment before arriving at a hospital. We think our tool could help alleviate downstream complications and reduce overall healthcare costs related to hospitalizations for heat-related illnesses.”

Team members say the project, in addition to allowing them to apply their biomedical engineering skills and knowledge to a real-world problem, also served as a good introduction to the power of collaboration in medical product development.

“It’s been a privilege to work on this problem with subject matter experts at the top of their respective fields. Our team got to interface with experienced innovators and engineers, fire captains, EMS system directors, emergency medicine physicians, and wilderness and austere EMS providers,” said Chou.