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New software may help save preemies Add to ...

Researchers hope computer software to be tested at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children will have a dramatic effect in saving the lives of premature babies and will take neonatal care to a new level.

The goal of the research project, involving the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and new IBM software, is to help clinicians make better decisions about treatment at a faster pace.

Currently, babies are connected to monitors that provide a variety of data on paper and onscreen, but the information is only stored for up to 24 hours and then discarded.

The new software can handle a constant stream of physiological readings - monitoring heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and oxygen levels in the blood. It can process 512 readings per second and screen the results for problems or patterns.

"This will elevate neonatal care to a completely new level - which really should be more sophisticated, better care - and would hopefully be associated with better outcomes for the infants," said Andrew James, a staff physician at the hospital.

He said the software, unveiled yesterday, could help clinicians do a better job of identifying life-threatening infections, which can be detected up to 24 hours before onset by observing changes in physiological data.

"Premature babies are at very high risk for infection and the signs of infection are really quite subtle until the infection is well established," Dr. James said.

"So if we can use this new technology to recognize changes and intervene with antibiotics much earlier than we currently do, we'll prevent these babies from getting as sick as they do."

The research is being led by Carolyn McGregor, a Canada research chair in health informatics, who came to Canada from Australia to take part in cutting-edge research in new health-care technologies.

"I've come across to Canada ... to make people realize there's a great need to revolutionize the technology uptake within neonatal intensive care," Dr. McGregor said.

"These are people with lifelong potential and if we can help the clinicians so they can improve survival rates and quality of life, it's going to have a dramatic effect on health-care costs."

She said the technology is also being tested for possible use around the world, particularly in places where premature babies have high mortality rates.

"In China, if a child is born in a rural or remote setting, it's nine times more likely that they will not survive if they're born early or born at term with a significant health issue," Dr. McGregor said.

Dr. James said the research is envisioned as a five-year project and funding of between $3-million and $5-million must still be granted before the technology can be fully implemented.

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