Telehealth Innovation – Connecting Patients to their Carers

“Poor health may be inevitable at some stage, but managing this period through early intervention leading to rapid diagnosis and treatment can minimise the severity of the condition, making hospital stays less likely and shorter”.
- Julian Holmes, CEO, Sanandco

The Challenge

Changing demographics and an ageing population is putting an increasing burden on the NHS, risking its ability to provide care free at the point of access.

Does technology have a solution to this problem? Can management of health be transformed by widespread deployment of low cost integrated medical devices capable of collecting basic patient physiological data and transferring it to cloud-based centres for analysis?

MonitorMe was conceived as a novel vital-signs monitoring telephone, simple to use but capable of providing rich information to healthcare providers and carers.

The Approach

The telephone handset is equipped with sensors to capture vital physiological signs and send them via telephone lines to a digital patient record, which could be analysed by a medical professional if significant changes were identified.

Plextek scientists thoroughly investigated the system requirements and created a whole-system simulation to understand the limitations of the system and test our intended solution.

We worked closely with the company throughout the development process, integrating four vital-signs sensors into a robust telehealth device capable of providing accurate information to a back-end patient database.

The Outcome

The delivered MonitorMe phone fully supported full-duplex DTMF signalling to a local telehealth server emulator. In order to interface with the public network the existing DTMF tones were matched to the connected network characteristics to protect the phone and user.

The Plextek team developed and delivered a solution that utilised appropriate design principles to allow eventual CE certification of the final product.

Completion of the development programme for this advanced prototype enabled our client to begin usability trials with hospitals in Leeds and Newcastle in order to acquire a CE mark and bring the product to market.

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Cost-effective Technology Development

"Plextek’s electronics design expertise has enabled us to provide a reliable and robust solution for temperature control at a cost acceptable to an over-the-counter, disposable device”.
- Paul Bateman, CEO Genosis

The Challenge

Our client, Genosis, had developed an OTC male fertility test which mimics nature by separating the motile (active) sperm from the non-motile (inactive) sperm and then measures them using a chemical test strip.

The sperm travel through a column of fluid which must be maintained accurately at normal body temperature, the best conditions for the motile sperm.

It is imperative that the temperature is precisely controlled for accurate read-out of motile sperm numbers, but any temperature regulator must be compatible with a disposable testing device.

The Approach

Plextek initially undertook a design study for Genosis which examined the potential options available for the fluid heating system: whether to use a simple discrete controller or a more flexible microprocessor based solution.

After reviewing the options, the Plextek electronics team developed an ultra-low cost but highly precise microcontroller that accurately regulates the temperature of the fluid column.

The basic functions were easily augmented so that temperature limit checking and module health functions were incorporated at no additional material cost.

The Outcome

The hardware & software design and manufacturing engineering was always undertaken in a way to minimise the factory gate cost, ensuring that the final product would be both reliable and affordable.

After thorough laboratory testing and extensive clinical trials, the product was successfully launched as an OTC product containing both male and female fertility tests and marketed through Boots.

The availability of an accurate, simple to use OTC screening test for male fertility affords couples earlier diagnosis which translates into a greater number of couples successfully conceiving and having healthy babies.

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Immersive Technology for Complex Systems Training

"Virtual Reality offers the potential for an extremely engaging and immersive experience that can present highly effective opportunities for learning and development”.
- Nigel Whittle, Head of Medical & Healthcare

The Challenge

Effective training requires immersion in a realistic environment where appropriate skills can be developed. However, it can be hard to replicate some situations for training purposes, for example, hazardous or complex environments.

It is vital to measure the effectiveness of training procedures in order to define the overall value in the training programme. Often companies employ ‘train-the-trainer’ structures to cascade knowledge & skills, and it is imperative that the quality and reach of training is measured.

Our client required a cost-effective training system to ensure specialist procedures were followed, which operated in a complex environment and produced a measurable outcome.

The Approach

Complex systems require complex training procedures, and immersive systems are a powerful means of generating realistic training environments that can be accurately configured to meet the client’s needs.

Through close observation of our client’s training methods, we captured their domain insight and evidence-based content. We then applied our software and imaging capabilities to develop an immersive virtual training environment using Oculus Rift.

Our ‘interactive training world’ uses a dynamic structure to measure effectiveness through the trainee’s choices and decisions, which can then be used to tweak the system to improve its effectiveness.

The Outcome

Our modular VR training approach provided the client with a flexible, validated training solution that was straightforward to use, and can be deployed at scale.

A direct training approach has also enabled the client to improve their training content based on end-user feedback, providing invaluable insight into the key requirements for specific training scenarios.

We demonstrated the value of conducting training in realistic VR environments, especially those that were complex or hazardous, and how those systems could be set up to provide useful feedback.

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Commercialising Medical Innovation

“Medical Device development can be incredibly challenging. Our experience in taking early prototypes through to manufacturing has enabled some incredibly innovative companies to achieve their business goals”.
- Richard Allen, Head of Manufacturing

The Challenge

Our client PneumaCare, a University of Cambridge spin-out, had developed non-contact technology for the measurement of lung function, which did not require the patient to make forced expirations.

Their highly innovative approach used structured-light analysis to assess 3D movement of the chest.

PneumaCare asked Plextek to take their early prototype system through to manufacture, including regulatory approvals.

The Approach

We realised that development of a commercial system would involve the solution of numerous technical issues, including stereoscopic camera alignment, effect of lighting conditions, reliability and calibration.

We undertook an initial technology feasibility study, conducted an IP search and a manufacturing assessment, and recommended the most cost-effective development approach.

We assembled a multi-disciplinary team experienced in medical device development, and worked closely with PneumaCare’s founders to realise their ambition.

The Outcome

Since launching this product, PneumaCare has won numerous medical device innovation prizes and received praise from leading Respiratory and Paediatric specialists.

The Thora-3DI™ device achieved CE mark approval in Europe in 2012, and is being used in hospitals in the UK, France, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Middle East, Hong Kong, China and Malaysia.

Following the first FDA 510(k) clearance granted in March 2016, PneumaCare is now working with its strategic partners to make the device available in the US and in other markets.

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Real-time Monitoring of Patients in Challenging Environments

"A thorough understanding of the technical issues faced in developing a novel wireless network inside a hospital environment was critical to the practical success of this project”.
- Nigel Whittle, Head of Medical & Healthcare

The Challenge

Our US-based client wanted to develop an ambulatory electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor that could record and transmit information from adult patients undergoing treatment in a hospital.

Their vision was to monitor vital signs of ambulatory patients in real-time and then transmit this data via the standard wireless medical telemetry frequencies used in hospitals.

However this poses a significant challenge as indoor wireless networks within hospitals are notoriously unreliable due to reflective surfaces, solid walls, beds and wards, which all cause interference with existing band signals.

The Approach

We determined that the system would need to reliably transmit accurate readings of heart rate determination, R-wave detection, ECG filtering and arrhythmia recognition.

In order to ensure complete reliability, our approach was to incorporate multiple antennas to ensure communication with the patient-worn telemetry packs.

A new bespoke system was developed which included radios, signal processing, software and a new secure band level for our technology, ready for adoption by hospitals.

The Outcome

The final product was a system with sufficient bandwidth to reliably monitor up to 189 patients at any given time, providing a holistic healthcare approach by allowing multiple patient monitoring.

We were able to support our client throughout the entire development cycle, from initial concept to final manufacture, providing a custom-made service that exactly matched our client’s needs.

The system was approved by The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the USA, and over one third of all US hospitals are now routinely using this monitoring system.

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