Remote Ventilator Control System Co-developed by Northwestern Medicine and Medtronics Enhances Care During Covid-19


Engineers developed software that allows clinicians to adjust and monitor ventilators remotely, reducing room entries and personal protective equipment use at hospitals worldwide.


From personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages to the continuous monitoring required for patients who are critically ill from COVID-19, clinicians have faced many challenges in safely and effectively delivering care during a global pandemic. But a collaborative and fast-paced effort by a team of engineers at Northwestern Medicine and Medtronic proved that the ability to quickly develop and deploy innovative solutions can improve the lives of patients and providers across the globe.

Identifying the Issue

With intensive care units at full capacity in the spring of 2020, clinicians had to enter the rooms of patients with COVID-19 as often as several times an hour to monitor and adjust ventilators, a critical component of care. These frequent room entries not only increased risk of exposure to and spread of COVID-19 but also required use of PPE, which was in short supply. Medtronic, a medical technology company that supplies ventilators to care centers around the world, was aware that clinicians needed a better, safer way to control ventilators but had to find a partner to build the solution. The goal was to create a tool that would help reduce room entries and conserve PPE while allowing clinicians to maintain the highest quality of care for patients.

Fast-Tracking a Solution

In April 2020, Northwestern Medicine engineers and Medtronic worked together to rapidly develop and deploy a remote monitoring solution for its Puritan Bennett™ 980 ventilators. The software, called Omnitool, connects each ventilator to the hospital network through a miniature computer in the patient’s room. Once the ventilator is on the network, a respiratory therapist can use existing unit laptops to wirelessly connect to the computer, which lets them monitor and adjust the ventilator’s settings and respond to alarms from outside the patient’s room.

It is estimated that prior to the development of Omnitool, as many as half of patient room entries were due to ventilator needs. The software was made available to every COVID-19 unit at Northwestern Memorial Hospital within two weeks of its creation, substantially reducing room entries and PPE usage. In addition, providers were able to treat more patients more efficiently without compromising care.

Improving Care Worldwide

Omnitool became available to hospitals worldwide just two weeks after it launched at Northwestern Medicine. Installed wirelessly through a software installation and upgrade, Omnitool helped solve a life-threatening problem in record time, not just in the U.S. but for providers and patients everywhere.