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.
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.