Most people who stay in the hospital long-term enter for serious reasons. But often, what keeps them there is much more mundane.
For example, pressure injuries, more commonly known as bedsores, are estimated to occur in 26 per cent of patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities. These skin infections are caused by the long-term immobility of bedridden patients and are estimated to result in seven deaths an hour in North America. Skin infections may seem inconsequential, but they are a real silent epidemic.
As the global population ages, this problem can only be expected to increase in prevalence, putting further strain on healthcare programs already under pressure. It’s the type of issue that requires unorthodox thinking to address – and help is coming from an unexpected field: engineering. Advances in the fields of engineering, science and math are set to transform the way we live and care for one another, and nowhere is that more clear than in the research coming out of the University of Waterloo.
Among noteworthy medical engineering solutions from the University of Waterloo is Curiato Inc., a medical startup that was founded by three alumni – Moazam Khan (CEO), Matthew Sefati (Co-Founder) and Zied Etleb (Co-Founder). The trio currently work out of Velocity, the university’s startup incubator, which assists emerging companies in growing their businesses.
The Curiato team has developed and implemented a solution that combines data collection with artificial intelligence engineering to reduce patients’ risk of bedsores and related skin infections from prolonged hospital stays.
“In the past, there has been no easy way to monitor the skin,” Zied Etleb, one of Curiato’s co-founders, says. “What we’ve done is create a platform powered by smart bedsheets that monitors and collects information about the patient and bed.”
Embedded with sensors that assess the climate between the skin and bedsheet, the “smart sheet” measures pressure, humidity and temperature, which allows health care providers to monitor a patient’s risk of developing bedsores. The sheet relays that data to caregivers in real time, and is then integrated into a patient’s electronic record and will alert staff when a patient should be checked on, turned or changed.
Co-founder Moazam Khan compares Curiato’s skin-data platform to an electrocardiogram – a recording of the electrical activity of the heart. Without data about the heart, he says, one cannot know the state of a patient’s cardiovascular health. The same applies to the skin, and this startup aims to fill that gap.
This sensor-driven data collection will give nurses the ability to deliver more informed care to patients with extreme fragility, in particular, says Dr. Doris Grinspun, registered nurse and chief executive officer at the RNAO.
The RNAO has a thorough set of guidelines for monitoring and treating bedsores, which recommend turning patients with limited mobility every two to four hours. While this tactic alone has reduced occurrences of bedsores across the province greatly, Dr. Grinspun says, patients in fragile conditions may experience pain from frequent turning that impacts their quality of life. A device that monitors pressure spots can give nurses the insight to turn patients only when needed, thus preventing bedsore development while reducing patients’ overall pain levels.
“Medical issues are “an interprofessional matter,” Dr. Grinspun says, and applying knowledge from non-medical fields will only improve the quality of care patients receive. It’s the uniting of data and engineering to both gather and make sense of medical information that has – and will continue to have – a direct impact on patients’ lives.
To make integration into existing health care systems easier and to keep costs down, the ‘smart sheets’ have been designed to retrofit existing hospital beds.
The Salvation Army Toronto Grace Health Centre, a downtown Toronto Complex Continuing Care facility that focuses on patients with multiple comorbidities, frail elderly and palliative care, has worked this technology into their regular patient care.
“We got involved with Curiato three years ago,” Jake Tran, chief executive officer of Toronto Grace said. “The idea was to use engineering to be proactive in terms of predicting when a wound may start, rather than having to react when seeing a wound is already there.”
Traditionally non-medical fields like engineering and math are helping to lead the shift from reactive to proactive health care today. Curiato’s smart bedsheet is just one of many emerging medical technologies being used to prevent illness or a health crisis before it starts.
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