March 2007

WORLD NEWS

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An e-healthy gift to USA’s ageing population

Getting a head-start on assessment and intervention for age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and injuries from falls is the goal of the collaboration between Intel Corporation and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).

Intel, a global leader in silicon innovation, has given a research grant of $1 million, renewable up to three years, which will enable researchers to focus on improving the quality of life of the USA’s ageing population by developing behavioural marker technologies that help to sense changes in behaviour and, in doing so, provide earlier detection and more effective and personalized treatment.

Over the years, Intel has provided OHSU with grants to support the development of this unique research. However, with the rapidly growing challenge of ageing, Intel has decided to increase the attention and investment through research partnership with OHSU. From the development of hardware, such as gait and speech sensors, to that of software designed to aggregate data and create coaching tools, this funding may lead to research results that may translate into new products and services, supporting healthy and independent ageing.

Intel has created the Behavioral Assessment and Intervention Commons (BAIC), a unique US-based academic-industrial collaboration that constructs a research commons a shared pool of tools, technology and thinking around behavioural markers and health outcomes. This collaboration promises to bring resources and attention to the development of healthcare technologies that will create sensors and other behavioural assessment tools to provide early detection and intervention. This research grant will foster the BAIC collaboration.

Behavioural markers are an exciting, emerging area of research, focusing on measurable changes in behaviour that might help us discover a medical problem earlier, notice an important trend in dealing with a chronic disease, or help us personalize treatment for a particular person’s needs. “Alarmingly, it is a worldwide problem that healthcare focuses on crisis, not prevention or early detection, and Intel is committed to supporting research initiatives that will create new technologies for early disease intervention,” observed Eric Dishman, General Manager of Intel’s Health Research and Innovation Group. “Most healthcare solutions are established on large population-based studies, underscoring the need for personalized treatment. Intel is launching the BAIC program to bring resources and attention to this promising technology area. We hope to grow the field of behavioural assessment and intervention technologies,” he added.


Arizona takes a step ahead in health informatics

The state of Arizona, US is making significant inroads into e-Health, more specifically into health informatics. The state will develop a computerized medical record-keeping system for those patients, who are enrolled in the state’s publicly funded healthcare system- Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System- and for this a federal grant of $12 million has already been allocated. The funding will be done by the US Department of Health and Human Services and the pilot testing of the system will commence from January 2008.

This innovative step would not only reduce the number of medical errors, but would also improve patient care and make the cost of medical record keeping significantly cheaper. The availability of patient medical records on a computerized database will enable doctors to be more informed and educated about their patients’ medical history and ailments, thereby improving the healthcare system. However, confidentiality of the patients will not be compromised for medical efficiency. Records would be password protected and some could be backed up with paper files or electronically. The project is likely to be completed by the end of 2011.


Futuristic robotics to retrieve quality patient-medico time

Europe is an ageing society, where patients-to-medics ratio is continually on the rise, leading to adverse effects on the quality of healthcare, and increase in recovery time. Intelligent robot swarm for attendance, record, cleaning and delivery (IWARD) project is the answer to this nagging problem. IWARD focuses on hospitals and healthcare centers to overcome the paucity of healthcare staff, a major problem of European healthcare industry. This project proposes a robot swarm to deliver support to oversee activities in healthcare environments; providing a multipurpose, cost-effective and scalable solution to enhance the quality of healthcare.The project has a gestation period of 36 months, and it commenced on January 2007.

With a budget of 2.79 million euro, the project is  scheduled to be uted by Dec 2009.  In the project, four major tasks of the healthcare robots are being envisioned as attendance, recognition, communication and support. In technical terms, attendance means to monitor hospital wards by robots acting as a dynamic swarm. Recog-nition points out that the swarm is able to recognize patients or objects needing attention, providing imme-diate information about the location and needs of the concerned patients. The robots would be equipped with different adaptable hardware components for floor cleaning and delivery of food, linen, medicine, etc. and all mobile healthcare robots would be capable of providing patients and visitors to the hospital with guidance and information.

Each robot will consist of a basic platform, mounted with a module of sensors and equipment, in order to perform varied tasks. The healthcare robots would also be programmed to guide visitors around the hospital. Each of the robots would be equipped with an array of sensors to enable it to move around the hospital. The proximity sensors will enable them to avoid collusion. They would also have  inbuilt cameras, which will enable them to explore their environment. Moreover, one robot will be able to warn another robot, if its cameras detect a collusion.

Robots could coordinate or communicate with each other either through a wireless Local Area Network (LAN) or Bluetooth techno-logy or even infrared lasers. The possibilities are open regarding this. The project also envisages that  the mobile robots would communicate with patients and pass messages on to the staff, and could also coordinate with each other regarding the assigned tasks. This futuristic robotics would give the doctors and nurses more time with their patients, and thereby strengthen the good old-fashioned philosophy of patient care. The success and fruition of this innovative technology will lead to fast identification and location of patients needing immediate care and relief, drastic reduction of human errors, much more cleanliness in hospitals, and wider reach of specialist medics.


e-Records go wireless

Toronto-based Sherbourne Health Centre, which primarily works with homeless people and recent immigrants, is using wireless technology to ensure that its electronic medical records can be accessed during any point of treatment and care. This will ensure that electronic records are connected by the wireless technology.

The wireless network will be connecting the clinic, the buses of the Sherbourne Health Centre and the new infirmary of the center. According to Sherbourne Health Centre’s Senior Networks and Systems Administrator, George Pinto, the infirmary will be equipped with a host of IT options to enable better healthcare, including VOIP and WiFi. Presently there are two laptops per bus and wireless technology allows the nurses to connect back to the EMRs at the centre via Microsoft Terminal Server. The networks between the clinic, buses, and infirmary, and the infirmary itself should be operational by the fall.

This technology will pave the way for continuity of care, savings in medical costs and reduce duplications of efforts, and will also address the problem of severe paucity of healthcare practitioners, which plagues Canada’s health scenario in a big way.

This initiative will be funded by an investment of $900,000 by Canada Health Infoway, an e-Health non-profit advocacy group. Besides establishing the network between the clinic, mobile health buses and the infirmary, the funding will also improve the existing connections and IT outfit of the infirmary.

The wireless network between these healthcare infrastructure units of the Sherbourne Health Centre will also facilitate the medical professionals to remotely keep track of the elements and symptoms of many diseases, which needs regular monitoring. This will help the patients suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes, respiratory problems, etc. without putting a great load on the hospital’s health infrastructure.

Here comes Dr. Robot

Now the stroke victims in the Livingston County, USA can have a stroke of luck. A new diagnostic robot can ensure them better healthcare than the average stroke victims in other parts of the USA. The robot, named as RP7, will enable teleconferencing between St. Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital in Howell and endovascular surgeons at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital in Pontiac, which is a major stroke intervention center.

The robot uses telemedicine to enable physicians discuss and consult online, which can save precious time. This will enable the specialists from Pontiac to ascertain if the cardiac patients need to be immediately transferred to the St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital in Pontiac, without any unnecessary delay. Now specialists in Pontiac can listen to the heartbeats and lung sounds of the affected patient and also discern if there is a blockage in the carotid artery by using a stethoscope transmitted by the robot. That’s not all. Now the doctors in Pontiac can also ask patients at the Livingston County hospital to respond to them, by doing such physical tests as holding their hands in the air and opening and closing them.

Through this robot the patients and their families can also communicate with the physicians at mutually convenient times, which endows the innovative technology with great interactivity. The Pontiac doctors can also communicate from the comfort of their homes, through this robot. The in-built camera of the robot links the family to the doctor. The robot, which incurred  a cost of $220,000, was financed by the Michigan Stroke Network. It is a network to which St. Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital in Howell recently joined.

New York Mayor takes a proactive stand on health informatics

US, it seems is taking the lead and showing the way in e-Healthcare. Recently Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of the New York City, has urged for universal electronic health records by 2012 at the National Health Policy Conference. He said that five years from now every clinic, hospital and doctor’s office in the US  which comes under the ambit of Medicaid and Medicare, should use prevention oriented e-Health records. Accor-ding to Bloomberg, the total estimated cost of the transition to electronic records is pegged at $20 billion.

However, this is not all empty talk as New York has become one of the first cities in the globe to introduce electronic health records in public hospitals and community health centers. The city health department is even introspecting on building a national model for electronic health records. But, according to Bloomberg, local governments cannot achieve this transition single-handedly.

According to him, the federal government can facilitate to achieve this five-year goal by giving doctors and hospitals necessary funds to procure computers, and restructuring Medicare and Medicaid reimbur- sement packages through rewarding providers, who can show that they are using the electronic health records to focus on prevention, and on empha- sizing primary care. However, though many bills to ute electronic health records have been proposed in the Congress, but none graduated to become a  legislation. According to Bloomberg, this hesitation is impeding the prog-ress in adopting electronic health records.


India to get mobile phone based health monitoring system

UK-based Loughborough University’s engineers have entered upon a partnership with experts of India to develop a unique mobile phone health monitoring system. The device, which was first unveiled in 2005, uses a mobile phone to transmit a person’s vital signs, including the complex electrocardiogram (ECG) heart signal, to a hospital or clinic anywhere in the world. Professor Bryan Wood ward and Dr Fadlee Rasid from the Department of Electronic and Elect-rical Engineering at the Loughb-orough University have developed this mobile phone monitoring system. Presently the system can transmit the signals pertaining to the ECG, blood pressure, oxygen saturation and blood glucose level.

Now the UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) has awarded Professor Woodward a grant to further develop this mobile phone monitoring system. They have tied up with the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT Delhi), the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and Aligarh Muslim University and London’s Kingston University, to further develop the system. The project will be managed by Lough-borough University, which with IIT Delhi will form a new mobile- health partnership ‘hub’. The research team is aiming to miniaturise the system, through designing sensors and mini-processors that are small enough to be carried by patients, and at the same time procure biomedical data. The network of sensors would be linked through a modem to mobile networks and the Internet, and to a hospital computer. Then, doctors can use this device to remotely monitor patients suffering from chronic diseases, like heart disease and diabetes, which plagues millions across the world. “I am delighted to have gained the support of the UKIERI to take this life-enhancing research to the next level and tap in to the knowledge of experts in India,” asserted Prof. Woodword.

The UK government will promote the device to improve the efficiency of healthcare delivery. In India, the project will link clinics and regional hospitals in remote areas to centres of excellence. The clinical trials of the system will take place in the UK and India in the next three years. This technology will be a great help to the people of India, who are direly needing expert diagnosis. It is also expected to be a boon for patients undergoing post-operative care.


Incorporating mobility with quality in patient care

Royal Philips Electronics has announced its plan to manufacture a Mobile Clinical Assistant (MCA), which has the potential to facilitate healthcare in a big way in the near future. The MCA would enable nurses and physicians to improve bedside patient care by using an integrated, wireless device to connect to patient information stored in electronic medical records. The MCA is a new category of mobile point-of-care devices that was designed with input from clinicians and through clinical workflow studies, interviews and ethnography research, conducted by Intel Corporation. The overall concept of the MCA has been defined by studying different usage models, with direct input from clinical staff. In fact, the Philips MCA brings a number of technology features together into a single platform. The portable, always connected device is designed to require minimal training and provides significant benefits to the clinical users, helping to reduce medication errors, positively identify staff and patients, fill out charts, capture vital signs, write up reports and validate blood transfusions as well as the ability to closely monitor the healing of wounds.

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