Healthcare providers can improve the level of care they provide to patients by taking advantage of intelligent systems, which connect data, processes and devices across internal departments and geographical boundaries. In addition to connecting disparate data within hospitals and clinics, intelligent systems can help facilitate home healthcare and independent living by helping patients monitor their health and send the information to providers automatically.
Microsoft’s Windows Embedded team, the Microsoft Innovation Center in Torino, Italy, and Microsoft HealthVault have collaborated with Freescale and Kontron to develop an intelligent system proof of concept that seamlessly connects the Freescale home health hub reference platform, FDA-certified panel PCs, servers and in-home medical devices. The system enables patients to automatically relay medical data from devices to physicians or family members via the cloud, connecting a touch-screen information display in the home, devices such as blood pressure monitors and glucose monitors, and medical data systems located at a hospital or a physician’s office.
A physician can review information and provide feedback directly to the patient: for example, an updated prescription, advice on how to manage new symptoms or a recommendation to come in for an examination. Family members or caregivers can access the shared information through HealthVault on a Windows Phone or other Internet-enabled mobile device, enabling them to keep track of their loved ones’ health when they can’t be present. The proof of concept shows how an intelligent system can help senior citizens continue to live independently while managing chronic health conditions.
Microsoft Innovation Center Torino specializes in projects that build on embedded systems and cloud technologies. Fabrizio Dominici, head of the Microsoft Innovation Center Torino – ISMB, says the healthcare intelligent system proof of concept illustrates how intelligent systems draw on both to help improve people’s lives.
“It’s important to solve the problem of assisted living,” Dominici says. “This project tries to create a bridge between people with medical problems at home and the hospital where the doctor is located. From our point of view, this is a perfect scenario for an intelligent system.”
The Microsoft Innovation Center team, in close cooperation with the other collaborators, studied the project architecture and developed the application layer for both the mobile application that runs on Windows Phone 7 and the panel PC used at the hospital. Freescale developed the home health hub reference platform and the project architecture. Kontron developed the flat-panel PCs running Windows Embedded Standard 7, as well as the KISS Server running Windows Embedded Server. These devices meet regulatory requirements for healthcare settings to enable physicians and nurses to access information in a hospital or other care facility.
Freescale’s systems and applications team located in Toulouse, France, developed the reference platform, the hardware design and layout, middleware and management components, the HealthVault client integration, and the remote user interface. The reference platform collects data coming from different medical devices and conveys information to and from the HealthVault medical cloud server.
“There is no clear direction for remote patient technologies in terms of connectivity options or protocols,” says Steven Dean, Global Healthcare Segment lead, Freescale. “What Freescale has been able to do is to provide our medical OEMs and design house partners with a reference design platform that I call the ‘kitchen sink of connectivity.’”
The solution offers an extensive range of connectivity options on the front and back ends, reflecting the fact that the medical systems market is currently fragmented. Regulatory requirements for medical devices, which also vary by country, impose an additional set of demands for devices that cannot be met by more familiar consumer products.
“There are very difficult certification and hardware requirements for such medical devices,” says Werner Ressle, director of Software & Software Services, Kontron AG. “Just think about how to clean and sterilize without scratching the surfaces of displays. You need the device to be reliable; just think about the data in the hospital environment — it must be reliable because your life depends on it.”
The Kontron team contributed an intelligent medical-grade patient monitor (panel PC) running Windows Embedded Standard 7 that could be mounted on a wall, at the bedside, or at a doctor’s or nurse’s desk to enable touch-screen access to patient information. This patient monitor is commercially available now, and Kontron will continue to contribute intelligent devices, including tablets, to the medical market in the near future.
The proof of concept shows how the reference platform connects data from specialized medical devices and home health devices with medical data systems to enable patients and caregivers to make more informed healthcare decisions. Patients can connect with a doctor without the hassle of scheduling appointments and traveling to a hospital or clinic; automated reporting helps ensure accuracy and makes it easier to identify and address medical problems before they become more severe.
While the healthcare intelligent system itself is a proof of concept and not commercially available, a number of medical OEMs are currently implementing the reference platform developed by Freescale as a central communications hub capable of bringing together information from disparate devices and institutional systems. The reference platform is gaining notice beyond the OEM world; it recently won the 2012 UBM ACE Award in Development Kits, Reference Designs, & SBCs. Both Kontron and Freescale are able to work with individual customers or user groups to implement systems that meet the regulatory and performance needs of the locations where they will be used.
Dominici says the healthcare intelligent system proof of concept is a perfect example of the innovative projects that Microsoft Innovation Center Torino seeks to develop. The Microsoft Innovation Center works to support the Microsoft ecosystem, as well as distributors and partners, and engages in industry cooperation to help industries innovate through the development of prototypes and participation in European projects. Healthcare is one industry where this collaboration results in solutions to real-life problems; another similar project serving a different domain is the Home Energy Gateway, an intelligent system that enables home users to track their energy consumption patterns and make changes to ensure efficient use of resources.
“This project can have an impact on people’s lives,” Dominici says. “Not only in healthcare but in energy — with the same technologies, we can help people at home in many situations.”
Ressle agrees. “I personally wanted to be part of this because this is not just a consumer device where you play game or chat with friends,” Ressle says. “We want to help create technology and devices that matter. This needs the best technology and the best people in the industry working together. We see this as our commitment to relevance and lifesaving technology.”
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