Connected Health is one of the key growth areas for the Internet of Things (IoT) and one that has spawned a wide range of products and services, particularly for those with long-term conditions or chronic diseases such as diabetes.
Perhaps less attention has been given to providing remote services to patients returning home from hospital, but who remain in need to continuing aftercare. Italian mobile operator Italtel has sought to address this need with its DoctorLINK end-to-end solution, which it showcased at this year’s Mobile World Congress in February (see photo).
The system is based on Italtel’s IoT platform, which uses cloud computing to collect data from a variety of sensors and meters over several different networks. The operator is targeting energy (smart meters), structural (bridges, for example) and environmental monitoring and, of course, smart health.
Open healthcare platform
DoctorLINK is Italtel’s key offering in the eHealth sector. It is an open healthcare platform based on WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) technology, which uses contextual communication to provide real-time managed services to simplify the experience of outpatients and improve the interaction between them and the hospital.
The solution can also act as a therapy manager and scheduler, collecting healthcare data from IoT sensors to track a patient’s wellbeing in real time. The overall aim is to provide continuity of care once the patient has returned home after surgery or other treatment by providing a constant, reliable and secure dialogue between the patient and the hospital.
The solution comprises the secure and confidential cloud-based care platform and a specialised tablet issued to the patient to enable the constant dialogue between patient and care givers.
‘There is no need to install an app, everything is pre-configured for the patient and integrated into the hospital’s backend systems. All they need to do is access the hospital via a normal web browser,’ explains Antonio Sindona, Head of Mobile Solutions & SP Wi-Fi at Italtel.
This provides a reliable and secure connection for multi-party communication using both HD audio and video services via an Internet browser. This can be used to deliver a variety of services such as remote consultations, enforcement and monitoring of post-op therapies (e.g. medicines taken).
‘DoctorLINK provides contextual communications using video calls and instant messaging,’ says Sindona. ‘The hospital can also use it to monitor the aftercare therapy programme: has the patient taken the right medicines in the right quantities at the right time, for example.’
It can also support data collection from body sensors, which can be interfaced with electronic health records through the HL7 protocol (the set of international standards for transfer of clinical and administrative data between software applications used by various healthcare providers).
‘It allows us to make at-home readings. A patient might have a heart rate monitor, for example, which can send readings via Bluetooth to the tablet, which will then send the readings on to the hospital,’ says Sindona.
The platform is open so approved third party applications can be use the APIs to develop customisable services and it is interoperable with private and public telecom infrastructures and integrated with hospital ICT systems. Sindona adds the maintain patient privacy is of course paramount and all transmissions are encrypted and sent over a secure system.
Wider healthcare ecosystem
Italtel believes the solution can be used by an extensive healthcare ecosystem including patients, hospitals, private physicians, pharmacies, governments and other institutions, health co-operatives and associations, and perhaps even extending to gyms and other wellness providers.
In addition, Sindona points out that the service could be used to establish real-time links to patients in isolated locations, prisons, field hospitals, boats, pharmacies and from ambulances.
The key outcomes DoctorLINK should provide include: better management of care transition; improved care team co-ordination, accelerated delivery of the most appropriate treatment, reducing re-admissions and access to ER; increased patient experience and satisfaction; mitigating risks and liabilities; and optimising overall patient management costs.
Italtel has already established a trial of the system in partnership with the San Martino Hospital in Genoa, which is using it to provide continuity of care and assistance to cancer patients who have undergone a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.
‘The application is called HomeWard@San Martino Hospital. It is six month trial involving 100 women. It is being used to manage bed availability and for staying in contact post-operation. The hospital is monitoring the patients to assess the psychological impact of the operation on the patients, as well as the progress of their physical recovery,’ says Sindona.
‘We are also assessing how they feel about using the tablet and the remote aftercare programme as a whole. The University of Genoa is taking an active part in the trial to see how the therapy works and to identify the weak points in the programme, so it can be improved.’
Sindona adds that Italtel aims to sell DoctorLink as a service. It will leave the medical aspects to the doctors, but expects to help with requests to integrate the solution into existing hospital back end systems.