Making healthcare better connected
Wearable sensors for at-home rehabilitation or detection of an irregular heartbeat... An EU-funded project is training students to transform healthcare in today's hyperconnected world, helping them harness the power of technology to keep patients out of hospital, cut costs and even save lives.
© Denys Prykhodov #83553000, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com
As European societies grow older, healthcare systems are coming under increasing pressure to adapt to the demographic shift and adequately meet the needs of patients.
Some experts point to connected health a term first coined about a decade ago to describe medical services delivered remotely using technology as a possible solution.
The definition has since been expanded, notably by the EU-funded CHESS project. It sees connected health as an emerging market and science that combines state-of-the-art technologies, tools, methods and analytics to create a smarter and more efficient health management model.
In a push to promote its adoption, CHESS recruited 15 researchers from diverse backgrounds to become tomorrows connected health leaders. Together with 18 partners from academia, industry and healthcare, the PhD students are working on a wide range of technology-focused projects, including hands-on tools and applications. Some of these could soon become commercialised.
One of the big problems we have seen in the past 15 to 20 years in healthcare is when people try to bring technology into an existing model to improve its efficiency, we have this famous equation: old process plus new technology equals expensive old process, says CHESS project coordinator Brian Caulfield of University College Dublin in Ireland. And so thats what were trying to address.
Caulfield stresses that, in order to have a lasting impact, tomorrows connected health trailblazers must be individuals who are well-rounded and dont just understand their own field. It makes them much better at working as part of an interdisciplinary innovation effort, he says.
That approach is paying off.
CHESS-supported innovations include a wearable sensor that would enable people with hip or knee replacements to do rehab, so central to their recovery, in the comfort of their own home.
Its essentially remote physical therapy, says Caulfield. The whole idea is that if you can enable a person to do this monitored exercise in their home, you may be able to send them home from the hospital earlier.
The tool comes with educational support such as on-demand videos included in an app for use on a tablet. They range from a surgeon talking patients through the process of their surgery, therapists explaining the rehab process, as well as demonstrations of how to use walking aids, take a shower or get dressed.
It has already had an impact on patients and garnered the attention of a venture capital company that has provided proof of principle funding. Weve got some really good feedback on this it has been trialled in a clinical setting and patients are loving it, Caulfield says.
Also in the pipeline is a wearable sensor that can detect irregular heartbeats, a condition that could lead to serious complications such as a stroke. Its an automated arrhythmia detection, Caulfield says. Being able to detect these early is a really key issue and it also helps you understand whether or not the particular drug therapy being prescribed is working or not and thats a major benefit.
Meanwhile, another student is trying to understand how technology and a monitoring programme could enable dementia patients to safely stay in their own homes.
A further project focuses on how tele-health healthcare provided at a distance using technology can help in the management of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Patients with the condition are often hospitalised with flare-ups.
Unfortunately, a hospital is the worst place for a person with an infection to be so theres a lot of reasons why tele-health can be of great benefit in COPD, Caulfield explains.
While potentially life-altering technological advances such as these are key, connected health cannot take hold without the right people at the helm, Caulfield stresses.
CHESS equips the researchers with transferable skills and a broadened mindset to bring about change, focusing on the sharing of knowledge and learning from one another.
There are a lot of dimensions to the challenge of making connected health a reality, says Caulfield. Therefore, we wanted to put in place a training network for the next generation of connected health leaders we have students from clinical, computer science, engineering, social science, business and commercial backgrounds, all coming together.
Caulfield expects some of the researchers to launch start-ups, predicting others will make their mark in academia or the electronics and pharmaceuticals industries, to name but a few.
CHESS received funding through the EUs Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme.