A healthy choice

7th December 2016

Rarely a day goes by without an announcement about a ground-breaking development to improve our population’s health: life-enhancing medicines, technology or treatments to tackle 21st Century health issues, such as dementia, obesity, diabetes and cancer. 

And whilst there are no easy remedies to the challenges facing our public health providers in balancing budgets in parallel to  maintaining services, Scotland is in an enviable position when it comes to the world-leading expertise in our universities and research institutions.

Tapping into the rich and varied seam of expertise and knowledge across multiple disciplines can significantly alleviate the pressure on the NHS through collaborations leading to new products, services and processes.

Technological advancements have opened many new doors allowing a better understanding of diseases, the human body or how to support vulnerable people with assisted living. And the pace of these new discoveries continues with many Scottish Scientists leading the way.

Knowledge and ideas are combining to produce exciting solutions which boost health and wellbeing to a level well beyond the imagination just a few years ago.

Wearable tech, once limited to the world of science fiction, is a growing market which is being tapped into with great success by Scottish entrepreneurs.

The story of Christopher McCann, from medical student to the brains behind snap40, is a great example. When he was a student, he noticed that manual systems of gathering data on the vital signs of patients meant that deteriorations in patients were not seen until long after they had started.

Christopher’s solution? A wearable armband designed to monitor patients’ health in hospitals. When it required a portable, wearable and low-power ultrasound sensor to monitor hydration levels – dehydration is a significant problem in hospitals – Interface was able to support his innovation journey by understanding the issues and finding the expertise in the University of the West of Scotland.  The project was funded by a Scottish Funding Council Innovation Voucher and through follow on support from the Digital Health & Care Institute (DHI).

The potential cost and time savings to hospitals of such collaboration are obvious; however there is also the benefit to the economy of an ambitious start-up which is creating employment in Scotland.

Reducing the need for medical intervention and saving time and budgets are also at the heart of CM2000’s technology. Their software is designed for remote and mobile healthcare workers, service users and their families, helping with scheduling visits, monitoring and measuring well-being as well as assessing the likelihood of the onset of illness. This enables “at-risk” clients to be easily identified and closely monitored.

CM2000 approached Interface looking at how the vast amount of data which is collected from community care visits could be used to evaluate the long-term health of an individual, giving further support to those administering care, as well as those receiving it.

Developments to the software have benefited from the input of expertise at Edinburgh Napier University and an ongoing partnership will further develop the data analytics capabilities. The overall aim is to gather additional information on patients’ conditions, in line with NHS and Local Council requirements, developing predictive techniques.

The work that CM2000 has undertaken with Edinburgh Napier University has also led to larger scale projects with DHI.  

Digital health and care interventions are recognised as key to the solution in tackling the pressures of Scotland’s ageing population crisis and DHI, one of Scotland’s eight Innovation Centres funded by the Scottish Funding Council, is crucial to this. They bring together people and organisations in the health and social care, charity, technology, design and academic sectors to develop new ideas for digital health and care technology that will improve the delivery of health and care services for Scotland’s communities and help the economy by supporting Scottish businesses which develop and commercialise such technologies.

Frequently, business-academic collaborations have wider resonance in the community and emerge from solving common every day challenges. Award-winning design company Studio LR were frustrated that every new hospital or medical centre displayed its own signage, which could be confusing to people with dementia – estimated to be 90,000 in Scotland and rising.

They wanted to tap into the latest research to inform their designs, and Interface was able to match them with two universities – the University of Edinburgh and the University of Stirling – for a feasibility study on how they could approach this. The partnership led to the production of a set of guidelines for creating consistent signage to increase independence and wellbeing for older people and dementia patients in care homes, hospitals or other environments.

The partnership between Studio LR and the University of Edinburgh continues through researching the effectiveness of symbols and whether people living with dementia understand their meaning. The project is funded by The Life Changes Trust who are supported by the Big Lottery Fund.

There are no easy answers to balancing the books of our National Health Service, but more businesses working collaboratively with universities and research institutions is certainly part of the solution.

This article first appeared in The Scotsman