Top Healthcare Conversations of 2008

Many of the great healthcare thinkers and bloggers wrapped up 2008 with end-of-year considerations of the important developments in their fields, and some looked ahead with predictions for 2009.

Three Inventions from Fischell

Award-winning medical inventor and philanthropist Robert Fischell spoke at the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference about three disruptive healthcare innovations he’s developing.

Real Time Monitoring for Dangerous Training

LifeshirtLifeshirt, a telemetry strap developed by Ventura, CA-based VivoMetrics Government Services, monitors the ECG, blood oxygen saturation, temperature, and activity level of first responders and reports results wirelessly once-per-second to incident commanders. The devices link responder-to-responder in a mesh network or in a star topology

Lifeshirts were used last month in a $750,000 study of firefighters’ training at the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute at the
University of Maryland. Wearing full turnout gear and breathing apparatus, 200 firefighters ran through a smoke-filled
obstacle course, extinguished a third-floor fire and "rescued" a 140-pound dummy from a  burning room.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security funded the study to try to reduce the number of deaths that occur in the training of firefighters. Training deaths accounted for 10 percent of all on-duty U.S. firefighter deaths in the past decade, despite a drop in the number of firefighter deaths overall. In a job where the prep work is almost as dangerous as the real thing, real time monitoring could make training camp a lot safer.

Outsourcing Intensivists

TelemdhospitalIn the neurosurgery ICU at the UCLA Medical Center, recovering patient Tim Copeland mimics the hand movements of Dr. Neil Martin as part of post-op clinical assessment (click to enlarge). Dr. Martin is only virtually present, beamed in
via an RP-6 robot supplied by Santa Barbara-based InTouchHealth.

UCLA reports that the robot is used for "leveraging the health
care expert’s time"
:

The patient sees, hears and interacts with the doctor through the
nearly 5-foot-6-inch tall robot, which displays a live video image of the
physician’s face on its monitor/head. The physician, seated at a computer
console called a ControlStation, also sees and hears the patient through a live
video image projected on a monitor. The ControlStation comes equipped with a
joystick, which allows the physician to drive the robot to the patient’s
bedside, control movements of the robot’s head and even zoom in to take a
closer look at the patient or bedside monitors.

Studies show that the presence in the ICU of intensivists, the physicians who specialize in the care of critically ill patients, can decrease morbidity, mortality, length
of stay and cost of care.
But in the U.S. today, there are fewer than 6,000 practicing intensivists and more than 5 million patients admitted to ICUs each year. Telepresence robots can jam more minutes of consultation into every specialist’s day, but it’s easy to imagine that it won’t be too long before the robot is connected to cheaper doctors in developing countries, outsourcing critical care via the Internet.