Following on from our 1 November article Is Australian telehealth alive, dead or just comatose?, it is now officially ‘beleaguered’. As of 1 January, more than eight million people formerly considered distant enough to qualify for telehealth and telemedicine services are now considered ‘urban’ and will no longer qualify due for a (AU) Medicare rebate for internet video consultations with medical specialists started in 2011. According to the article, it seems to affect psychiatric services and other specialist services; also GPs who’ve installed now un-utilized telehealth equipment in clinics. The savings will be (AU) $128.5 million on the $620 million scheme, although it spurred broadband development across Australia. According to a comment on LinkedIn by reader/commenter Dr. George Margelis, “The net effect is that telemedicine in Australia will flounder, because uncertainty is the greatest deterrent in medicine.” Millions across Australia to lose Telehealth rebates from New Year (News.com.au) Hat tip to reader Ellen Fink-Samnick of LinkedIn’s ‘Ellen’s Ethical Lens’.
A not-far-from-here-and-now take on the recent film Robot & Frank may be Roboy & Mule. The Roboy (left), an advanced humanoid robot, is being developed by engineers at the University of Zurich’s Artificial Intelligence Lab in only nine months (yes, the same as a human baby) for its debut at the Zurich Robots on Tour conference 9 March 2013. Kid-sized with a cute ‘face’ and tendon-driven locomotion, its artificial muscles will eventually be covered by a soft ‘skin.’ Its purpose is to help people in everyday environments. The Mule is an un-cute Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) four-legged pack robot (a/k/a LS3) capable of carrying 400 lbs over 20 miles of rough terrain, taking voice commands, avoiding obstacles and even recharging the devices of the modern soldier and Marine. Its purpose is to relieve them of part of the insanely heavy loads (100 lbs.) they carry. Both robots and their underlying technologies have many imaginable assistive uses for older adults and the disabled in the home and in communities. Roboy in CNET News, PopSci. The Mule in Armed with Science. Videos on both. A New Year’s hat tip to Toni Bunting on Roboy.
Ann Collins is the Assistive Technology Project Manager for Brandon Trust (website) which provides homes for people with learning disabilities. She has a particular situation to deal with and would appreciate suggestions from readers. She says: “I am working on the reconfiguration of a property and am ideally looking for an integrated telecare solution for the people living there that will also accommodate the specific needs of an individual living in an adjoining self contained flat supported by the same team.
The individual needs an incontinence sensor that can be integrated into a chair. It cannot be placed under a cushion as it will be removed. It would need to be accessible so that the sensor(s) can be removed and cleaned. All wires and transmitters will also need to be hidden or remote as, if visible, they would be damaged. If the individual becomes distressed the first indication of this is that they start to tip over furniture. Is anyone aware of ways that we could use sensors (accelerometers, I assume) that would be able to detect if the furniture is turned over? Any ideas about standalone, integrated solutions or possible suppliers would be very welcome.” Leave suggestions in comments or email Ann.
The Gimlet Eye dusts off her Crystal Ball and sees yet another dozen 2013 predictions from HIT experts. Personal health records are ‘it’ for 2013, revived at last, driven by the consumer, collecting data from multitudinous sensors, sending information over exchanges (HIEs, hopefully conquering their interoperability problems), user friendly EHRs (!) reaching critical mass, but being scrutinized for incentive payments [TA 30 Nov] and interoperability, interoperability, interoperability…All big data, genome sequencing and all those goodies, gamified, predictively analyzed and maybe even care coordinated. And whither the doctors? Abandoning their independent practices and swallowed up by hospitals…until they get the vision and use technology to be financially autonomous, which is like having your cake buttered. Information Week Healthcare
The Gimlet Eye sees…affective health. Using physical data for monitoring mood has a lure to it that in stressful times says ‘consumer acceptance’ — and there’s always PTSD. Both Boston-based MIT spinoff startup Neumitra and MIT Media Lab spinoff Affectiva [TA 2 July] measure the sympathetic nervous system for leading indicators of mood, such as perspiration, motion and increased temperature, processing the data through algorithms as leading indicators of possible anxiety and sending it to a platform via smartphone. Neumitra is currently being tested at Massachusetts General Hospital to gain better information on anxiety disorder triggers. Although the Technology Review article states that both are ‘experimental,’ Affectiva will be at next month’s CES Eureka Park for early-stage/startup companies.
(to ship early 2013), you will be able to control your desktop, laptop and maybe even tablets (with USB connectivity) through hand and figure movements. Potential in healthcare could be immense: robotic surgery, rehabilitation, ability assessment, remote monitoring and socialization. Video (1:12) which only sells the ‘whiz-bang’ aspects.
The Hogeway care home near Amsterdam provides an environment for dementia sufferers which is quite unlike what we see in memory care units. It is an eight ‘house’ community built around a large enclosed courtyard where residents are free to walk and sit. Each house is structured like a large family home with eat-in kitchen and a lifestyle theme (e.g. urban) that influences the decor, food and experiences. ‘Alternate reality’ is what it is dubbed in the 1:26 video from BBC News, but what it does is give a resident understandable surroundings with appropriate stimulation and most importantly, socialization that seems to work within their limitations, for some happiness and improved quality of life. Editor Donna would have liked more observation of the residents, but appreciates that even the most discreet film crew would be profoundly disruptive of their everyday routine and potentially upsetting. It should give senior housing people in the US and UK at least a few ideas away from the isolation that tends to pervade many memory care wings. Dementia patients in Dutch village given ‘alternative reality’.
In Editor Donna’s ‘in box’:
- Much hype around Misfit Wearables, which incorporates in its bracelet and pocket clip (necklace to come) a metallic activity/aerobics tracker called the Shine, which is the size of a quarter, uploads on both iPhone 4/5 and most Android devices via Wi-Fi, and will retail in the $79-199 range when released sometime in mid-2013. It’s raised more than $500,000 on crowdfunding site Indiegogo.com, plus developer Sonny Vu is backed by partner John Sculley (remember him a century ago at Apple?), Founders Fund and the ubiquitous Khosla Ventures. Activity-Tracking Tech Moves From Wrist to Neck, With Sculley’s New Shine Necklace (AllThingsD) (This is the only mention where Sculley gets the lead!)
- Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have successfully developed a prosthetic hand controlled by the thoughts of a quadriplegic patient detected via electrode implants in the motor cortex part of the brain. According to The Scientist, it “rivals the way an unimpaired brain directs limb movement.” Published 16 December in The Lancet. Thoughts control robotic hand (The Scientist)
- A health texting provider, Televox, claims that 34% of Americans say they are more honest discussing their health problems through automatic calls, email, or text messaging, than in a face to face conversation with a doctor, and a similar percentage felt that receiving emails, texts and voicemails from their doctor increased trust. Despite the relatively large N of the study (over 1,000), the self-reporting online poll recruited via email and the sponsorship by Televox leaves one wondering how honest or objective the study is. Mobihealthnews.
The Avera Health Network provides remote telemedicine critical care to a Midwest slice of the 10% of US doctors currently serving the 25% of Americans who live in rural areas. Avera’s services–eConsult, eICU Care, eEmergency, ePharm and eLongTermCare for nursing homes–originate in a Sioux Falls, South Dakota ‘hospital-without-patients’ which utilize telemedicine and telehealth tools. It connects to rural doctors, nurses, clinics and hospitals in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wyoming, and Nebraska where the doctors are few, the distances are far and the population is aging. Avera, according to the article, is the only eICU operation of this kind in the US and possibly the world. This Atlantic article is another good news story in that you see, in relatively few words, how distance care can be truly effective and secure–as of October, they reported an 18% decrease in ambulance and helicopter transfers to major hospitals, equating to $6.6 million saved. Where ER Doctors Work Entirely Via Webcam (Using a dedicated network, not Skype!)
Following on their October heads-up on AirStrip Technologies working with Toronto-based Diversinet on security relating to AirStrip’s use with the US government, the two have formally announced a licensing agreement where Diversinet’s mobiSecure SDK platform will be used for secure messaging in AirStrip’s mHealth application suite. This enables AirStrip military, government and commercial customers to comply with Federal security requirements. Diversinet recently received the FIPS 140-2 validation for their cryptographic technology underpinning their MobiSecure platform which is required for US and Canada government use [TA 18 Oct]. Earlier this month, they announced the mobiHealth Wallet, which allows patients to create unique health profiles and configure/integrate data from compatible apps. Diversinet/AirStrip release mobiHealth Wallet release
Editor Donna’s note: Non-US readers will note the reference in the mobiHealth Wallet release to the Federal ‘Blue Button Initiative’ which, in plain language, simply enables users of personal health records (PHRs) to download their health information as an ASCII text file. Various Federal entities such as the VA, Department of Defense and CMS have all signed on. Our friend The Gimlet Eye is ‘barrel rolling’ at this bit of jargon which is, in certain quarters, being tossed around with insider abandon. And it comes complete with cute logo!
The year should not conclude without at least one last look at data breaches. This article from HealthWorks Collective samples three but they are ‘doozys’–in the millions and all hacking. Over at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, if you select only healthcare and tick all breaches save payment card fraud, there are 207–with the most serious belonging to Alere [TA 30 Nov], Gulf Coast Healthcare Services and the California Department of Healthcare Services all with breaches including SSI and over 10,000 records. Not a good leading indicator for 2013.
Just released by LeadingAge CAST (Center for Aging Services Technologies) is a ‘vision video’ that demonstrates how various technologies interact in the life and medical situation of one 83 year old woman. What is more, every bit of health tech in the story is available right now. Sharp-eyed viewers will see Care Innovations’ QuietCare and Philips LifeLine (but not the Auto-Alert) but the telehealth hub and the EHR are not identified. (List your guesses in Comments.) It was also put together with the assistance of many other organizations, notably Selfhelp Innovations and their Virtual Senior Center. CAST page and videos (downloads available) Heads-up thanks to CAST Executive Director Majd Alwan.
Watford New Hope Trust receives CommunityPod courtesy Telehealth Solutions is an item in a local newspaper. It should have been a really positive news story for the company Telehealth Solutions and the WNHT charity but the journalist’s failure to explain what the technology does, or its benefits, has spawned a series of uninformed comments. What a pity. Heads-up thanks to Mike Burton.
Because epilepsy is such a distressing condition there will surely be a crock of gold waiting for whoever can produce a device that can reliably monitor the brain activity of people with epilepsy when at home, especially when asleep. Here is the latest effort from researchers in The Netherlands which, they say, has a (good) 90% success rate: Tele-Epilepsy and Remote Seizure Monitoring in the Netherlands Shimmer Research. (Whoever coined the term ‘tele-epilepsy’ should be sent to the naughty step until they say sorry!) Heads-up thanks to Toni Bunting.
The Chain of Trust Project is a two-year pan-European collaboration between researchers in six countries, Greece, Latvia, The Netherlands, Poland, and Portugal and led by the Norwegian Centre for Integrated Care and Telemedicine. (Website). It began in 2011 with a literature review (PDF), a survey involving patients and professionals, and country-based workshops. Its 45-page interim report Understanding patients’ and health professionals’ perspective on telehealth and building confidence and acceptance (PDF) was published in November. Unfortunately, it is not until Section 3 (page 10) that the authors who, in the previous pages frequently and consistently refer to ‘telehealth’, define the term. “Telehealth refers to the delivery of healthcare across a distance, using information and telecommunications technology and specially adapted equipment. It allows health professionals to diagnose, treat, care, assess and monitor patients without requiring both individuals to be physically in the same location” which, in our book, is mostly ‘telemedicine’. This is confirmed in the footnote to the definition which states “Telehealth is in turn an expansion of the term telemedicine”.
This lack of up-front clarity doesn’t invalidate any of the findings, of course, but it may alienate readers who feel that they have wasted half an hour trying to figure out the particular context when, with a little thought, the definition could have been placed in a box at the beginning. Grrr… [Related TA item from 4 years ago]
The European Commission last week issued a plan of action to address barriers preventing the full use of digital solutions in Europe. Measures covered by the plan include:
- clarifying areas of legal uncertainty
- improving interoperability between systems
- increasing awareness and skills among patients and healthcare professionals
- putting patients at the centre with initiatives related to personal health management and supporting research into personalised medicine
- ensuring free legal advice for start-up eHealth businesses [Editor’s emphasis]
The Commission has also pledged to issue a mHealth (Mobile Health) Green Paper by 2014 addressing quality and transparency issues. EU issues action plan for digital healthcare InnovateUK
“FDA approval of this innovative study design is a significant milestone. Pharmaceutical companies have been worried that the FDA would not accept telemonitoring in place of costly clinic visits,” said John Holland, senior vice president for research and business development at AMC Health. U.S. Food and Drug Administration Approves Remote Monitoring for Drug Trial. ThirdAge.com (3 pages)