MEDICA CONNECTED HEALTHCARE FORUM: Networking in the field of health has many facets

Network connection from hospitals to schools: The topics at the MEDICA CONNECTED HEALTHCARE FORUM go much further beyond what one spontaneously thinks of when the word network is mentioned. Running on a new set of days from Monday to Thursday, the forum, which is being held in trade hall 15 as part of the world’s largest medical trade fair, MEDICA 2015 (from 16 to 19 November) with around 4,800 exhibitors, covers a wide spectrum of subject-matter, ranging from networked healthcare systems to the Internet of Things, “Wearable Technologies”, all the way to “Medical Apps”.

Right off the bat, two projects deal with young long-term patients, who do not want to, and should not, lose contact to school and their school friends. One of them is entitled “Avatar Kids”. Within the scope of this Swiss project, the avatar robot “Nao” is the connecting element between school and home and the long-term patient staying in hospital. The connection is established over the Internet. The avatar robot represents the child at school and makes it possible for him or her to be “present” in real-time and participate “live” in school lessons. “Nao is very popular,” explained Jean Christophe Gotanian, CEO of Avatarion Technology. The school children perceive that the absent fellow classmate is present within the robot – and think this is cool most of the time. They can see their fellow classmate via a tablet PC (by Samsung) that has been attached to the head of the movable robot. Thereby, the Avatar robot is not a toy. He is given to the best school friend of the young patient, although it is the teacher that controls the robot with his own tablet PC. Here, he also sees for example what the young patient is writing in hospital.

Four university hospitals and twenty wards are already taking part in the project. According to Christophe Gostanian, contact has already been made with Italy, Belgium, Holland and France. In Germany, the project will be presented to the professional public for the first time at the MEDICA CONNECTED HEALTHCARE FORUM.

Use of the Avatar robot “Nao” should not merely be limited to classrooms. On the one hand, for example, the robots should help to provide the children with information regarding pending interventions. However, using the device on the robot’s head, the young patient can be “beamed” to the schoolyard via an Internet connection or be present during a class trip. Furthermore, by means of this, a connection between the family and the child in hospital can naturally become a reality. In particular, this can be important during the evening hours when young patients are alone. In the future, use at retirement homes is also planned – where, for example, “Nao” will ask questions, demonstrate yoga or movement exercises or answer questions about the weather, but would also be able to draw bingo numbers. In any case, the experience made with Avatar Kids seems to be encouraging. Patients between the ages of six and 17 are pleased about the new possibilities and the doctors decide on how much their patients can achieve.

“Smart Cities” project in Hamburg

“Some patients get a bad diagnosis from us. But it is even worse for them if they are totally ripped from their social environment.” This was also described by Professor Christian Gerlofff, deputy medical director and head of the department for Neurology at the Hamburg-Eppendorf University Hospital, (UKE). In a project promoted by Cisco at the children’s hospital of the UKE, children who are ill over the long term are given the opportunity to continue participating in their school lessons using video technology. This project is taking place within the scope of “Smart Cities”, which Cisco and the City of Hamburg are working on in cooperation with each other. Under the heading “School and Health”, this specifically makes it possible for Thorben, who has been ill over the long term, to actively take part in school lessons along with his fellow classmates and teachers via audio and video transmission.

Equipped with an iPad and the video soft client 'JAbber’ installed on it, Thorben can control the camera located on a trolley in his classroom. “We only have to roll the trolley into the classroom in the morning, plug in the power cable and switch on the power strip. When Thorben turns on, we hear a quiet noise and know that he is here,” explained Christina Iserhot, Thorben’s school teacher. In fact, Thorben actively takes part in the lessons.

“It was our goal to take children out of their isolation and make it possible for them to actively take part in school lessons. If someone whispers in the background or something falls down, Thorben becomes aware of it and is capable of directing the camera toward it,” explained Till Osswald, business development manager of the healthcare department for the EMEA region at Cisco. In the meantime, the pilot project was expanded to include another student, a 17-year-old grammar school pupil. “The experience shows that users accept and understand the technology very quickly and immediately feel included again on a social level.” The project has been developed and executed in cooperation with Avodaq, Cisco and the Hamburg-Eppendorf University Hospital. In the meanwhile, there have been fifty registrations on the waiting list from Hamburg alone.

Particular dynamics in the field of wearables

The “Internet of Things” and “Wearables” also have the potential of becoming an essential element of networked health in the future. As part of the MEDICA CONNECTED HEALTHCARE FORUM and the “WT Wearable Technologies Show” (also in the MEDICA hall 15, stand A 23), around thirty companies from the entire supply chain will be showing where things will be heading toward in their opinion. Not only devices will be presented, but also the latest technologies that make these devices possible in the first place. Christian Stammel, founder and CEO of the WT Wearable Technologies Group, particularly emphasises the sophisticated options provided by data processing, which have made enormous advancements due to wearable technologies such as sensors. That which had originally been worn privately, ranging from quantified self-movement all the way to self-tracking, is going to also increasingly establish itself in the field of healthcare and replace older technologies. The spectrum of devices ranges from lifestyle products such as the Apple Watch, to intelligent glasses and hearing devices, so-called “hearables”, all the way to the latest trend – intelligent patches that continually retrieve physical data, but that can also administer medications in a minimally evasive manner.

Smart patches on the path to becoming multi-talents

In comparison to T-shirts with integrated sensors, the risk of artefacts is, for example, considerably less in the case of smart patches and the products are almost invisible. These “smart patches” could mean a great alleviation in the future, particularly for diabetics. As an example, Stammel mentions the “Diabetes Care’s FreeStyle Libre”, which has been approved by the FDA. European approval is still pending, but: This is a patch for measuring blood sugar that can be worn while showering, swimming and when doing sport and only has to be changed every two weeks. By means of a painless scan, the patient obtains the current glucose value, the glucose data over the course of the last eight hours and trend information concerning where the glucose value is heading. As another example for the usefulness of smart patches, Christian Stammel mentions “UpRight”, which monitors body posture while it is worn on the back. The product belongs to the generation of “trainables”; it triggers an alarm if body posture is wrong and helps to correct it. This indicates a new trend: The continuous correction of poor posture by means of the devices. At the MEDICA CONNECTED HEALTHCARE FORUM, co-exhibitors of the Wearable Technologies joint stand will be presenting the new intelligent patches, Feeligreen and RootiLabs for example.

What should be done if patients collect data on their own?

Another tendency to be taken seriously is that physicians are increasingly confronted with data that originate from devices that have not been certified for the medical field. Christian Stammel is quite sure that these products provide reliable data. “Physicians should not simply disregard this data as irrelevant.” Data that is collected by patients and brought to the attention of their physicians can provide at least a reference value, providing a basis for consultation and, maybe, this data will also contribute to making a diagnosis or finding a therapy. Qardio is a good example for this. At the MEDICA CONNECTED HEALTHCARE FORUM and at the Wearable Technologies joint stand, the company will be presenting products for measuring blood pressure and ECGs, among other things. The devices are supposed to be very user-friendly and, having an appealing design, be able to be perfectly integrated into everyday routine.

Clinical applications for wearables are also thinkable

Wearable technologies can also provide support in hospitals for optimising processes and organisation. For example, they can help in avoiding decubitus. Using sensors, it is detected if patients have been moved or not and can serve hospital personnel as a memory aid. Christian Stammel emphasises: “Today, many existing technologies already available can be used without taking any major measures with regard to infrastructure.”

He does not see future challenges in the technical field. The technology is available. In fact, Stammel sees the difficulty of making progress in developing practical applications, algorithms and data analyses. He noted that sensors, which are already being used in smart watches, are not used enough. In particular, Stammel sees a forward-looking trend concerning the change and observation of behaviour patterns by means of mobile devices. In particular, on Monday, 16 November and Wednesday, 18 November, the MEDICA CONNECTED HEALTHCARE FORUM is offering the possibility for hospitals and physicians to gather information on the latest developments. Thereby, Wearable Technologies will not only be presenting new devices, but also other important elements belonging to the supply chain. Markus Sieber from TÜV SÜD Produkt Service GmbH, for example, is going to be covering the testing of wearables as medical devices.

And let’s get to apps - at the MEDICA App COMPETITION

On Tuesday, 17 November 2015, at the MEDICA App COMPETITION, it is all about the best medical app for professional use within the scope of the everyday routine of doctors and in hospitals. Thereby, the consumer market of fitness and wellness apps is explicitly not being focused on, according to the organiser, Mark Wächter, chairman of MobileMonday Germany. From 10 August to 10 October 2015, app developers from the entire world can submit their medical apps to participate in the competition. These submissions are pre-selected by the MEDICA expert team. Ten developer teams will be able to qualify for participation at the live pitch taking place at the MEDICA. During the MEDICA 2015, all medical apps nominated will be presented on stage in hall 15, and afterwards, the winner will be selected on site by a top-class jury. Thereby, in addition to user friendliness, criteria will particularly be the business model and the contribution to process optimisation and increasing efficiency. In the previous year, “Medopad”, a suite of iPad applications won the competition, which makes it possible to add captured health data to existing databases and make them available on tablets.

Author reference: Dr. Lutz Retzlaff, freelance medical journalist (Neuss)

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