Europeans developing automatic monitoring for Parkinson’s

By: Neil Versel | Aug 8, 2012        

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REMPARK Parkinson's MonitorIt’s one thing to detect the telltale stiffness, tremors, spasms and loss of muscle control of Parkinson’s disease with wireless sensors, as Great Lakes Neurotechnologies is doing with its Kinesia HomeView system. It’s another to add automatic medication administration to this type of technology.

A multi-country project funded by the European Union aims to do just that. Researchers in Spain, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Israel, Ireland, Sweden and Belgium have joined on a 42-month, $5.2 million effort to develop a wearable monitoring system that automatically delivers medications and provides cues to help Parkinson’s patients recover from “gait freezing” episodes.

Visual or audible cues often help people with Parkinsonian symptoms start moving again when their muscles freeze up while walking. Gait freezing can lead to balance problems and dangerous falls.

The European project, dubbed REMPARK (for Personal Health Device for the Remote and Autonomous Management of Parkinson’s Disease), combines Bluetooth low-energy sensors worn on the waist and wrist with a control unit that processes movement data and wirelessly connects the sensors to a smartphone. The wrist sensor looks for muscle tremors, while the waist belt measures body movement, including gait.

An actuation part of the system provides audible, visual and touch-related cues—the latter by electrical stimulation—to get the patient moving again after an episode of gait freezing. It also includes a wireless infusion pump to deliver medications.

The monitoring and actuation components of the system link to each other via smartphone, which also sends data to and from medical professionals overseeing patient care. Researchers, led by the Technical Research Center for Dependency, Care and Autonomous Living (CETpD) of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (BarcelonaTech) in Spain, also are building a central server to store and analyze data sent from these body-area networks.

Recruitment is underway for planned pilot tests on 60 Parkinson’s patients in Spain, Ireland, Italy and Israel, according to organizers.

Other participating companies and organizations include Spanish telecom Telefónica, Teknon Medical Center in Barcelona and the European Parkinson’s Disease Association. Funding officially began in February 2011 and will run through 2015.

Watch a video demonstration of REMPARK here.


VA: 99 percent of our laptops now encrypted

By: Neil Versel | Aug 8, 2012        

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Roger BakerThe Department of Veterans Affairs has mostly met a new requirement, in place since March 31, that all of its laptop computers have encrypted hard drives. Currently, 99 percent laptops used by VA personnel are encrypted, according to CIO Roger Baker.

“We see on a regular basis reports that come in in our morning brief to the secretary that report a laptop that was stolen or a laptop that is missing for some reason,” Baker told Federal News Radio (WFED AM-1500) in Washington.

In its most recent monthly report to Congress of data breaches, the VA said that 13 laptops went missing between June 4 and July 1. All had encrypted hard drives. “You can imagine the level of relief that a CIO has when every one of them says, ‘But the laptop was encrypted,'” Baker said in the radio interview.

“In our world that means that it’s not the CIO’s problem anymore. It is a physical security issue for the protection of the device,” he added. It also can save the department a lot of money. It costs about $1,000 for a new laptop with an encrypted hard drive, according to Baker. But a breach costs far more.

A 2006 breach involving personal information of more than 26 million veterans cost the VA $20 million in compensation for potential victims of identity theft. That incident prompted the new rule requiring encrypted hard drives.

VA does have methods for verifying that laptops said to be encrypted actually have the security in place. “What it enables us to do is see exactly what software is running and what’s going on in every [computer] in our organization,” Baker said. “You can make an awful-lot-closer-to-absolute statement when you have visibility to every device than you can by having to do a data call believe what you get out of 210 organizations,” he added.

“There’s just no way of making an absolute assertion that nothing has happened to the information unless they’re encrypted.”

A handful of portable computers still are not encrypted and Baker said the VA is trying to identify the remaining 1 percent of unencrypted laptops and remedy the situation. The encryption rule does have some exceptions, too, such as for computers that are part of FDA-cleared medical equipment because modifying the hard drive might change how a medical device works.

The VA also recently has had what Baker called a “near-miss.” It involved a laptop falling out of a VA clinician’s car trunk that popped open. Fortunately, according to Baker, a military serviceman was driving immediately behind that car and retrieved the computer. Because the laptop was only in VA and military hands, the incident did not make the monthly security report, Baker said.

In the June report, department also reported five missing or stolen desktop PCs and 20 lost BlackBerry smartphones, but did not detail how those were dealt with. Enterprise-issued BlackBerrys can be remotely disabled.

Mobile health drives wearable computing

By: Brian Dolan | Aug 7, 2012        

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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsThe history of wearable computing goes back at least 50 years, back when the military began developing displays built-in to headgear worn by pilots. A decade later brought wearables developed to determine how fast roulette wheels were spinning and the 1979 saw the launch of Sony’s WalkMan. Jody Ranck’s latest report for GigaOm covers this past, the present and potential future for wearable computers with a special focus on those developed for healthcare and fitness.

Over the years MobiHealthNews has mentioned an increasing number of wearables devices from Adidas’ miCoach, to contact lenses with infrared displays, to Zephyr Technology’s sensor-enabled clothing and more. The more recent crop of wearables include suped up pedometers and crowdfunded  breakout devices like the Pebble smart watch, which integrates with the popular RunKeeper app.

As we reported at the very beginning of the year, Sonny Vu, the co-founder of AgaMatrix, developer of the iPhone-enabled glucose meter iBGStar with Sanofi, founded a new startup called Misfit Wearables with former Apple CEO John Scully. Considering Vu’s past success, his move to found a wearables startup certainly adds some substance to the trend.

A February 2012 report from ABI Research predicted that the number of wearable health and fitness devices will hit 169.5 million by 2017, up from just 21 million in 2011. A Forrester Research report that also dropped earlier this year, claimed that the wearable device market will be an important one for the big platform makers: including Apple, Google, and Microsoft.

While many of the devices in the wearables category today are wristworn and most of the headline grabbing devices are augmented reality plays, like Google’s Project Glass, real innovation will likely take the form of smart clothing. The opportunity for passive monitoring is huge and wearables that take the form of things we already wear are much more likely to find adopters. I stopped wearing a watch as soon as my mobile phone could display the time. As innovators like Misfit Wearables follow the lead of pioneering companies like Zephyr Technology and Exmovere Holdings, watch this space.

Duke cancer clinics cut physician documentation time with iPads

By: Neil Versel | Aug 7, 2012        

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iPad medical appsCollecting patient histories on iPads has reduced physician documentation time by 17 percent at Duke University oncology clinics and has led to more productive exams and consultations, according to the head of a major management consulting firm.

Writing for the Economist Group’s Lean Back 2.0 column, Boston Consulting Group Managing Director Paul Zwillenberg describes how Apple’s iconic tablet, at least anecdotally, has improved cancer care at his alma mater.

“Now, each time patients visit a Duke Oncology clinic, they answer a series of 88 questions on tablet computers in the waiting room. Between visits, they regularly make similar observations on a secure online site,” Zwillenberg reports.

While the online follow-up acts as a supplement to traditional office visits, the questionnaire makes face-to-face encounters more productive, too. Zwillenberg says Duke clinicians find that this electronic history form produces information that often is more “accurate and comprehensive” than what physicians can obtain during an actual exam or consultation.

“Three-quarters of breast-cancer patients reported that they were able to remember their symptoms more accurately, and one-third of them said the online questionnaire prompted them to bring up issues with their doctors,” he adds. “Patients are also more forthcoming about alcohol use, sex lives, anxiety and depression on the tablets than they are in person.”

And this is with an adult population with an average age of 54, not exactly what Zwillenberg labels the “always-on, multitasking, multiplatform, millennial, social-media set accustomed to an open-door policy about their lives.”

Zwillenberg reports that information gleaned from the tablet-based questionnaire helped Duke oncologists identify a pattern of sexual distress among patients with gastrointestinal or breast cancer. The university subsequently created educational materials and counseling programs for these populations.

“Combining tablet technology with clinical care has been great for our doctors and our patients. Tablets enable doctors to spend more time with patients, and patients to lead fuller lives through the creation of personalized education,” Dr. Amy Abernethy, founder and director of the Duke Cancer Care Research Program, tells Zwillenberg.

Welch Allyn gets FIPS validation for wireless vitals monitors

By: Neil Versel | Aug 6, 2012        

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Welch Allyn vital signs monitor 6500Medical device maker Welch Allyn said Monday that its products have become the first wireless vital-signs monitors to pass rigorous U.S. government security standards for use in federal healthcare facilities.

Two Welch Allyn products, the Connex Vital Signs Monitor 6500 Series and Connex Integrated Wall System 8500 Series, have earned Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) 140-2 Level 1 validation, meaning that they meet wireless encryption standards required for use in federal deployments. The approval opens the door for federal healthcare providers, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Military Health System and the Indian Health Service, to purchase and install the Connex systems in their hospitals and clinics.

The Connex VSM and IWS are part of the Connex Electronic Vitals Documentation System, Which Welch Allyn says it designed to integrate with VA infrastructure.

However, government facilities will not be able to use the monitors or wall system until Welch Allyn releases an updated, FIPS-validated version 3.0 of its radio software later this year, the Skaneateles Falls, N.Y.-based company says. Products installed now with an earlier version can be upgraded in the field.

Welch Allyn built the radio specifically for healthcare, and the devices are compatible with 802.11a/b/g wireless networks, according to the company. With accompanying Connex Vitals Management software, the monitors can automatically populate electronic health records.

“Our integrated radio uniquely meets the demands of clinical staff on the front lines since it was designed specifically for low-acuity areas, like med/surg floors,” Will Fox, the company’s director of marketing for the U.S. and Canada, says in a press release. “The wireless coverage in these areas may be less robust than traditional monitoring locales, like telemetry units, and this radio is optimized to work seamlessly in these areas to improve clinician workflow and reduce errors. It also provides the highest level of authentication and encryption available for commercial 802.11 networks and FIPS validation adds additional peace of mind that the data will not be breached or compromised.”

Scripps medical building gets ‘universal’ wireless network

By: Neil Versel | Aug 6, 2012        

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West Wireless Health Institute

West Wireless Health Institute

In the latest step toward creating a standard architecture for wireless healthcare networks, San Diego-based Scripps Health has opened a new medical office building with a single, “universal” wireless network designed to handle all manners of devices, from smartphones and tablets to vitals monitors and infusion pumps.

Scripps Health, a founding affiliate of the West Wireless Health Institute, recently replaced the Scripps Coastal Medical Center office building in Oceanside, Calif., with a new, 33,500-square-foot facility that the health system says is the first in San Diego County to have this type of network. The infrastructure can isolate segments of bandwidth to let many different types of devices—including those belonging to patients and visitors—to operate simultaneously, according to San Diego-based Scripps.

“This is the medical building of the future,” Scripps Coastal Medical Group CEO Dr. Kevin Hirsch says in a press release, without elaborating.

Scripps Health eventually will install this type of network in all of its sites, including four acute care hospitals. Next up is the new critical care building being built at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas and the Prebys Cardiovascular Institute under construction at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla.

Scripps joins other health systems that, as part of the West Wireless Health Council’s Executive Committee, have agreed to test what has been dubbed the “medical-grade wireless open framework,” a planned standardized architecture intended to turn wireless data movement into a utility like electricity and plumbing. Scripps CIO Patric R. Thomas is a member of that advisory committee, as are CTO Mark S. Wiesenberg, biomedical engineering director Marcia Wylie and Bruce Rainey, the health system’s corporate vice president for facilities design and construction.

Several other hospitals represented on the committee have had the technology since early this year. The list includes Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, Calif., and UMass Memorial Health Care’s HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster, Mass.