Patient-centred technologies abound at
By Andy Shaw
DUESSELDORF, Germany – Greater mobility and freedom for caregiver and
patient alike, as well as far greater scalability of healthcare
technology systems, were two underlying trends for many of the
innovations introduced last November at Medica, the world’s largest
annual medical gathering and trade show. Among the 32 Canadian
exhibitors, for example, Southmedic Inc., based in Barrie, Ont.,
introduced to world markets its new OxyMask. It’s an oxygen mask with a
revolutionary ‘open’ design that frees the patient to talk with
caregivers even while inhaling the gases.
Also in this vein, game-like therapeutic devices aimed at speeding the
rehabilitation of stroke patients in their own homes made several
appearances at Medica this year. Some were based on the Wii game console
from Nintendo. But likely the most innovative and scientific came from
the Canadian exhibitor, Quanser in Markham, Ont.
Quanser introduced its “Rehab Robot” in Duesseldorf after extensive
research and prototype development in Canada. As a video and handouts at
the modest Quanser booth demonstrated, a 73-year-old Canadian stroke
victim, Alice Prytula, used the Rehab Robot, which employs “haptic
feedback” technology, to recover use of her left arm after months of
conventional therapy had failed.
Toronto-based Interfaceware made its first appearance as a Medica
exhibitor – but it was no stranger to the medical world. Founded in
1997, its HL7-based software products and services are speeding the
exchange of electronic healthcare data at over 6,000 installations world
“What we brought to Medica 2008 was a whole new version of our HL7
Iguana interface engine,” said Andreas Theodosiou, Interfaceware’s
executive vice president. “Iguana version 4.0 is not just an upgrade. It
runs faster, more efficiently and is highly scalable - from a single
interface to increasingly popular ‘hosted services’ that have large data
centres hosting hundreds of interfaces.”
Target markets for the company at Medica were equipment vendors,
hospitals, and health authorities seeking better integration of their
For chief Medica organizer, Horst Giesen, Southmedic, Quanser, and
Interfaceware were typical of what he saw and liked at his show.
“A lot of the innovation we see here comes from small products and small
companies – I believe you call them SMEs in North America. We’re seeing
a real trend to smaller, more portable devices being used in almost
every field of medicine. They are products that bring healthcare to the
patient and not patients to the products, as usually happens,” said
Giesen during a wind-up interview at the show.
The compact and multi-talented Mobile Care Unit (MCU) from TMA Medical,
a SME located in Fischbach, Austria, was right up that alley – indeed it
could roll up the alley. Operated and controlled by a dedicated
tablet-PC, the MCU can carry out right at bedside a long list of
customizable examinations and functions – ECG, blood pressure, blood
monitor, haematology, oxygen saturation, spirometer, urine analysis,
audiometer, defibrillator, and ultrasound to name a few. It also can
create a homogeneous electronic medical record that can be beamed out
wirelessly straight from the cart. Built-in video conferencing also
makes the MCU a useful tool for remote clinics needing connection to
centralized experts. A similarly sophisticated mobile cart from Devlin
Electronics in Britain features new battery technology that gives the
cart a run time of six to eight hours before re-charging.
From down under, New Zealand’s Chiptech, an “electronics design and
build” company in Christchurch known for its medical alarms, unveiled
its small, multi-functional Personal Response Unit (PRU). With
programmable and upgradeable “Smartware” software on board, the PRU is
much more than the traditional alarms that elderly stay-at-home people
are encouraged to wear or keep by their bedside. Current functions of
the PRU include medication reminders but also the ability to upload and
download other applications including graphics and voice files, all over
a standard telephone line. Indeed, according to its makers, the PRU has
been designed as a platform that just about any home monitoring device
can be linked to.
Though much of Medica is a SME show, the heavyweights of healthcare
technology still predominate visually at the event. Two and three level
“booths”, some complete with kitchens, tower above the others and
attract the biggest crowds. None more than Siemens. On Day 1 of the
show, over orange juices, espresso coffees, and morning canapés served
high above the madding crowds, Germany’s flagship high tech firm
launched a “Molecular CT” diagnostic imaging scanner that promises the
finest resolution ever; iGuide CAPPA, a precise GPS-like guidance system
for biopsies and other invasive needle procedures; and its Acuson S2000
ultrasound machine with built-in technology that can “feel” the
stiffness of liver and other tissue it is peering at.
Not to be outdone, Philips kept in step with the more mobile care theme
by unveiling at Medica its Magnotech handheld technology designed to
bring lab testing to the bedside. A sample fingerprick drop of blood or
saliva is placed in a disposable biosensor cartridge that’s not much
larger than a cell phone. Magnetic nano-particles in the cartridge go to
work on the sample, binding to target molecules before being attracted
to an internal biosensor. Results show up on the Magnotech screen within
five to 11 minutes.
According to Marcel van Kasteel, the CEO of Philips Handheld
Immunoassays, Magnotech handhelds could bring complex in-vitro
diagnostic tests out of the laboratory and into decentralized settings,
including the patient’s bedside and even at home.
“Long term, we envisage that different testing stations - both
conventional, automated labs, and these new, mobile handheld systems -
will be part of a diagnostic network, using wired or wireless
connectivity and sophisticated healthcare informatics solutions to store
and assist in interpreting the data,” said Mr. van Kasteel.
Meanwhile at GE Healthcare smaller is also better. GE introduced its
Centricity Advanced Web distribution engine at Medica for referring
physicians who want access to their large RIS/PACS hospital systems fed
through the small pipes of their remote or home offices. GE’s patented
‘pixel-on-demand’ fast-streaming technology gives remote physicians,
radiologists, or other clinicians fast web-based access to virtually the
same advanced applications, clinical tools, and diagnostic-quality image
display they would get at the hospital. Even if they are saddled with a
low bandwidth back in their offices, says GE, users can still get their
hands on a big set of tools including 3D visualization, multi planar
reconstruction, integrated ultrasound, mammography, orthopedic tools,
second opinion consulting, printing, and CD burning.
Still, Siemens being a Germany company, chooses to put more of its new
approaches and gear on display at Medica than the Holland-headquartered
Philips or USA-based GE tend to. This year Siemens made its pitch for
its “fully integrated medical technology” spanning the entire continuum
of care, with solutions that are highly scalable “from the laboratory up
to business management and control” – and all in seamless integration.
No small task.
To that end, Siemens also introduced at Medica two new MRI machines
using its unique TIM (total imaging matrix) technology first introduced
in 2003. The Magnetom Essenza is a 1.5-Tesla machine aimed at the demand
for high quality but reasonably priced MRI. The Magnetom Verio, on the
other hand, is the first 3-Tesla in the world to feature a 70-cm bore.
This machine, says Siemens, literally opens the way to MRI examination
to obese and or claustrophobic patients who couldn’t or wouldn’t be
On the CT front, Siemens also introduced the Somatom Definition Adaptive
Scanner. It can range in use from a radiologist’s routine diagnostics to
complex scans for neurologists and cardiologists. But it is ideal,
Siemens claims, for emergency situations. With fine, adaptive control of
its dosage at the fingers, caregivers can examine accident or other
trauma victims, be they giant Sumo wrestlers or skinny little kids, with
just enough, and therefore the safest possible, x-ray exposure.
Other Siemens firsts introduced at Medica included:
Multix Swing, a flat X-ray detector that can be placed underneath
or next to a patient’s heard to reach areas making hip examinations, for
IQ-SPECT, which can generate perfusion (blood flow) data from
cardiac CT examinations within five minutes
TubeGuard, a remote monitoring system that continuously measures
the life left in X-ray tubes
Improvements to the Syngo portal for radiologists and referring
physicians which speed the exchange and workflow of examinations and
reports between the two
Advances in Siemens’ Health Information Exchange, a shared
communications platform that facilitates co-operative medical care by
using Soarian Integrated Care software and its physician-administered
electronic patient record.
Esprimo Ma, a 1.3 kg PC tablet in a wireless (WLAN, 3G)
pen-based, rugged design.
Despite the deepening economic crisis, Medica 2008 closed its annual
four-day run last November with record numbers – 4,313 exhibitors from
66 countries were visited by 137,000 people who clicked through the
turnstiles of the sprawling Messe Duesseldorf fairgrounds on the banks
of the Rhine River.