A team of students from the Cockrell School's Department of Biomedical Engineering has developed an award-winning low-cost patient monitor focused on improving global health.

Using resources and equipment in the Longhorn Maker Studio, the student team developed FreePulse, a low-cost device that provides basic monitoring for heart rate, electrocardiogram signals and percent of saturated oxygen.

The student team created a video about their device as part of the Engineering World Health's design competition.

Recognized for its durability, reliability and solution to a health care challenge, FreePulse took first place in a design competition for the global organization Engineering World Health and third place the National Institutes of Health's Design by Biomedical Undergraduate Teams (DEBUT) Challenge.

Patient monitors are medical devices that track a patient's vital signs in order to identify respiratory or cardiac distress. In the United States, each hospital bed comes equipped with one. In developing countries, the devices are less accessible due to their high cost. Hospitals in low-income areas depend on donated patient monitors, which can be unreliable; in many developing areas, the machines break because they cannot withstand the inconsistent power conditions.

"A patient monitor is the Swiss army knife of health care," said Reece Stevens, biomedical engineering senior and president of Texas Engineering World Health, the student group that created the device. "It's needed for surgeries and any long-term care procedure, beyond a routine checkup."

Stevens was inspired to lead the effort in developing an accessible low-cost patient monitor after spending three months at an Engineering World Health Summer Institute in rural Rwanda, where he observed only five available patient monitors in a 400-bed hospital.

"In order to check a patient's vital signs, health care workers would hook up a monitor to one person, record vital signs, then cycle through and hook up the monitor to the next patient, creating delays in the treatment and procedures a patient may need to receive," Stevens said.

Stevens and the FreePulse team took into account the challenges he witnessed in Rwanda to build a solution that fits the needs of developing areas. Whereas equivalent types of patient monitors cost anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000, the FreePulse device can be made for under $200. It is a small handheld device, with a familiar user interface and a rechargeable battery.

The team will continue to improve the prototype and find ways to add functionality.

They will be recognized with awards from Engineering World Health and the NIH DEBUT Challenge at the 2015 Biomedical Engineering Society Meeting in Tampa, Florida, Oct. 7-10.