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What Is Biotelemetry?

Biotelemetry can be used to monitor heart rate.
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  • Written By: Charity Delich
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2014
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Biotelemetry is the use of telemetry methods in order to remotely observe, document, and measure certain physiological functions in human beings or other living organisms. The field consists of several subfields, including medical and human research telemetry, animal telemetry, and implantable biotelemetry. Medical telemetry is of particular note because it can be used to remotely track the vital signs of ambulatory patients. Generally, a biotelemetry system used for this purpose measures functions like body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle movement.

The use of biotelemetry systems began as early as the late 1950’s, during the space race era. At that time, these systems were used to record physiological signs from animals or humans who traveled to outer space in a space shuttle. The signals were then transmitted back to a space station on earth for observation and study.

Most biotelemetry systems are wireless. Usually, they consist of several components, including sensors, transmitters, a radio antenna, and a receiver. Patients or animal subjects typically wear the transmitters on the outside of their bodies. Signals are then sent from the transmitters to a receiver in the biotelemetry lab to be reviewed and analyzed. A display unit in the lab allows lab employees to see vital sign information from several different patients or animals at one time.

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In particular, cardiovascular patients benefit from the the use of wireless biotelemetric systems. These devices offer cardiac patients the ability to stay mobile while being observed. The systems used for these patients usually depend on radio-frequency communications to monitor heart rates, blood flow, and blood pressure. This is all done without requiring the patient to be hooked up to a bedside monitor with a wired connection.

Biotelemetry can also be used to conduct research on animal behavior in their natural environments or on animal migration patterns. Typically, this research is conducted by place a transmitter on the animal. Biologists then track the animal by following the transmittal signal. Even on sleeping mammals or birds, animal telemetry devices usually record everything from respiration, heart rates, and heart muscle activity to neural and cardiac movements.

When implants are used in biotelemetry, it usually means that the transmitter devices are implanted in the animal or human being studied. For example, cochlear implants usually have built-in telemetry systems that allow the internal device to be monitored. More powerful transmitters can be more difficult to implant in a subject, and strong transmitters with large batteries can impact a subject’s behavior or energy levels.

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NathanG
Post 4

@everetra - My friend has a strange hobby – he has a shed full of pigeons in his backyard. I’ve lost count as to how many he has, but it’s a bunch.

Anyway, he’s part of a pigeon club where we live, and in addition to his gatherings with other people who own pigeons, he enters his birds into racing contests.

He has a bio telemetry device affixed to the pigeon so that they can monitor their speed and determine who the real winner is in a close race. These are homing pigeons so he’s trained them to run their races and come back.

I think the technology is really neat and useful for monitoring animals. I don’t think we need to worry about it being used for ill, really. I don’t think Big Brother is really that concerned about every movement of our daily lives, anymore than they want to listen in on all our phone calls.

David09
Post 3

@everetra - I think that technology is already here; we have had implantable human chip implants for some time now, and their ostensible use has been for medical applications.

I don’t know if any of these implants have been built with telemetry receivers as of yet. Personally, I don’t think it would be such a bad thing.

Imagine never having to look for a kidnapped or lost child. Also, police could use it to locate where criminals are at any given time.

everetra
Post 2

@miriam98 - I definitely think these data telemetry applications have usefulness for medical applications and also in animal research.

I do wonder about the dark side of the technology, however. For example, what about if governments finally mandate that all citizens wear implantable bio telemetry devices?

These permanent GPS systems could grant unparalleled power to a powerful elite of people to control our every movement. As with so many things, they will use the excuse of doing some good, like using it to fight crime.

However, it could easily result in more nefarious schemes, like spying on people and controlling their lives.

miriam98
Post 1

I can certainly see the use of bio telemetry for cardiovascular patients. I imagine if someone has a heart attack the device can immediately alert physicians and perhaps call an ambulance right on the scene.

They have a similar technology in safety pendants for elderly patients. With these units the patient can just press a button on a necklace if they are in medical distress of any kind.

However, I don’t think that would be of much benefit if the patient passes out. With the bio telemetry devices, their body will immediately call for help, without any manual intervention on their part.

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