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Blazing a trail in health wearables
CHANCES are, you have a wearable that tracks your steps or perhaps even your heart rate. As consumers become more health conscious and technology makes it easier to track such data, they have correspondingly higher expectations from the healthcare system.
On the flip side, changing demographics, increasing demand for healthcare services, and a relative shortage of healthcare professionals and caregivers have made the provision of appropriate healthcare increasingly challenging in recent years.
But now that consumers are increasingly conversant with technology, and technology has evolved so that medical devices can accurately track a range of relevant bio-signals such as ECG, heart/pulse rate, respiration rate and skin temperature, it also means that new models of care are emerging.
To support this, two key initiatives are being developed to promote the use of such technology.
One initiative being developed is telehealth, a collection of means or methods for enhancing healthcare, public health, and health education delivery and support using telecommunications technologies.
The second initiative focuses on personal health and wellness, and leveraging technology to equip consumers, patients, and informal caregivers with the information, knowledge, tools, and services to take greater ownership of their own health and wellness.
The question then, is how to integrate patient data collected by devices at patients' homes or in the community with the hospital's electronic medical record systems and patients' personal health record systems.
This is where Singapore-based healthcare technology company, Cadi Scientific, comes in. Since its establishment in 2003, the firm, which was founded by four researchers from the Centre for Signal Processing from Nanyang Technological University, has developed a range of wireless sensing, tracking, and matching devices.
Its first product - a temperature monitor that is able to track a person's temperature and alert the caregiver only when the patient is running a temperature - was the result of one of the company's founders waking up one too many times during the course of the night to monitor his son's temperature, reveals Lim Soh Min, director and chief marketing officer at Cadi Scientific.
This temperature and tracking system - a round token larger in circumference than a 50 cent coin - is now used at some hospitals and health institutions in Singapore and the region. Once it is attached to the patient, it can track the patient's temperature, and also his/her location in the hospital.
The company has since developed tag-to-tag communication technology, which has led to the creation of an infant tag, mother tag, and baby cot tag. The three tags are linked to one another and if a baby is placed in an unmatched cot for instance, a warning beep sounds. If a baby is placed in their own cot, or is in contact with their mother, a soft lullaby is played. This is more accurate than some location trackers which assume that once the two tags are in the same room, they are in close proximity to each other.
Another of their products, a contact tracing smart tag, can be used as a staff tag. Beyond tracking where the staff has been - for contact tracing purposes - it is also able to use the patented technology to read how long a nurse spent with a particular patient, and also automatically logs these reports.
"Say a patient needs some help and they press the call bell, when the nurse responds, they are in close contact (with the patient's tag) and so automatically the alarm will be turned off. It helps them in their task scheduling as well. So nurses don't need to go to the computer (to log their activities) as often anymore," explains Dr Lim.
All the information that their tags collect - whether temperature or nurse activity - are fed back to Cadi Scientific's system which the firm then interfaces with the hospital's system. But given that every hospital system is different, this translates to high interfacing costs.
In 2014, Cadi Scientific was invited to be a member of the Health Informatics Technical Committee to use its platform to test the feasibility of the new requirements set out in TR45. TR45 is a technical reference for remote vital signs monitoring.
It worked with Astralink Technology, a unified gateway third party provider, to test the new requirements.
"This committee was set up to bring everybody together to talk in the same language. This will help reduce interfacing cost in the future," says Dr Lim.
"Our SmartSense is simulating a future in which we have a central portal (that collates medical data) to show it is possible (for consumers to easily upload their data). A third-party like Astralink can send data, which is then displayed on a central monitor. So in the future, if the national portal uses the same connectivity, all third party vendors can easily upload their data. This means consumers can use different devices and have their data consolidated in the future. This is in line with the Internet of Things (IoT) initiative by the government."
Beyond its participation in the TR45 project, Cadi Scientific is also ISO13485 certified. ISO13485 specifies requirements for a quality management system where an organisation needs to demonstrate its ability to provide medical devices and related services that consistently meet customer requirements and regulatory requirements applicable to medical devices and related services.
Leveraging such standards has helped Cadi Scientific penetrate new markets more efficiently.
Says Dr Lim: "If we tell people this is a Singapore standard, many vendors will follow this standard, and it could become an international standard . . . They can use our protocol to build-to-fit their non-standard interfaces. This can help us reduce our development time and it will definitely help our business scale."
Looking ahead, Cadi Scientific aims to offer a a wider range of solutions to further improve the situation in Singapore's hospitals. It is also planning to widen its international footprint. It has a subsidiary in Malaysia, with plans to set up more to better support its partners.
By leveraging standards, it hopes to cut out the most time-consuming portions - working to have custom interfaces compliant with different hospital requirements - and instead focus on improving integration efficiency. This will in turn allow hospital staff more time to do what counts - looking after patients.
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