Digital health solutions promise faster patient discharge
Global healthcare company GE Healthcare is collaborating with the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and several Finnish companies to develop new wearable patient monitoring solutions.
The hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) is an expensive place. Caring for a single patient in an ICU can cost tens of thousands of euros per day and the average daily cost of care runs into thousands of euros per patient. Moreover, extending an ICU stay beyond the minimum necessary is not good for the patient. Longer ICU stays are associated with hospital-acquired infections and delayed recovery. Furthermore, there is a growing shortage of skilled personnel limiting critical care resources. There are then, very good reasons for discharging patients as soon as possible from the ICU to the ward and, when possible, back home. Faster discharge would be good for patients and good for the healthcare system.
“Knowing their patients are being continuously monitored with the best available technology would give ICU physicians the confidence to discharge their patients to the ward sooner. With appropriate patient monitoring, caregivers could observe deviations from the expected recovery path and be alerted to unexpected events immediately, allowing for timely intervention. On the ward it is easier to arrange physiotherapy and help patients recover their mobility. Helping patients become active and mobile is key to enabling an earlier discharge from the hospital altogether. Getting a patient back to their familiar home environment early can also speed up a full recovery. Naturally, these efforts to reduce hospital length of stay are also driven by the need to contain rising healthcare costs,” says Matti Lehtonen, CEO of GE Healthcare Finland. Global responsibility also for the entire Anesthesia & Respiratory Care business at GE Healthcare gives Lehtonen unique insight into the evolving world of intensive care.
In the past, patient monitoring has, arguably, also been part of the problem. Monitors were never really designed to support seamless care pathways. Often, different patient monitors were bought separately for the ICU, the step-down units and the ward. Still today, the general wards, not to mention the home, have limited monitoring available. This situation not only means that there are gaps in data collection, but that sensors and cables often need to be changed every time the patient is transferred from one setting to another. Data can also be lost or suffer from incompatibility. Lack of confidence in patient monitoring through the rest of the care pathway can slow a physician’s decision to discharge the patient.
GE Healthcare’s Digital Health program aims at tackling this challenge of discontinuous monitoring. The company is developing a patient monitoring platform with which wearable devices gather all the vital signs’ data as the patient progresses along the care pathway – seamlessly from the ICU to the ward and on to the home. Mobile vital signs’ data are transmitted in real-time to the hospital’s own cloud database allowing for continuous alarm monitoring, analysis and reporting.
While GE Healthcare is developing the underlying software architecture for its new platform, the company is also collaborating with VTT and several Finnish companies for related technologies. “VTT provides professional research and development services to GE Healthcare’s Digital Health program, in areas such as wireless sensors and data analytics. VTT is an integral part of Finland’s innovation ecosystem and has also helped GE Healthcare network with Finland’s other public organizations and related companies operating in Finland,” says Kari Kohtamäki, Key Account Manager at VTT.
“We have long collaborated with VTT as they have extensive experience in digital signal processing, sensors and wireless technologies” says Erno Muuranto, Director of Engineering at GE Healthcare Finland.
“Cooperation with a global leader like GE Healthcare is important for us as it allows us to showcase our expertise in developing state-of-the-art products. Their Digital Health program allows us to apply our research to a project that has significant practical impact. I believe GE Healthcare will act as an accelerator to the Finnish digital health ecosystem and pull other companies in the sector forward. GE Healthcare’s activities are helping Finland to be recognized as an important healthtech innovation hub,” says Petri Kalliokoski, Executive Vice President at VTT.
Finnish funding and expertise
Wearable patient monitoring is a hot topic globally. Fierce competition to develop new solutions is encouraging established companies to cooperate and reach out to public research organizations for a competitive edge. GE Healthcare’s Digital Healthcare program has received funding from Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation. Tekes is a publicly funded organization that finances research, development and innovation in Finland. “GE Healthcare carries out R&D for digital health in five countries, all of which compete internally for projects. Tekes funding was an important factor in bringing the Digital Health program to Finland,” says Muuranto. “Finland’s leading expertise in wireless technologies gave us an important competitive advantage. We are also collaborating with some 15 Finnish companies with specialized technology know-how; some of them built around former Nokia teams,” adds Lehtonen.
“Monitoring also ambulatory patients will mean a significant increase in the amount of raw data collected. We will need intelligent analytics to interpret this mass of data, as well as integrate data from other sources, in order to identify the information relevant for the caregiver. Developing these kinds of intelligent systems is at the core of VTT’s research activities,” says Kohtamäki.
The Digital Health program was launched in 2015, and the first prototypes of wearable monitors are already being tested in the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa. “Our Digital Health program truly represents the latest trends in healthcare: intelligent systems and predictive analytics. The program also brings together Finland’s many strengths, from health and mobile technology to software development. Fundamentally, the program is based on the knowledge and expertise that GE gained when it acquired Finland’s Instrumentarium Corp. in 2003,” Lehtonen explains.