Sunday, 26 July 2015

Robots take up the slack in Changi General Hospital's labour crunch

Such assistive technology for hospital needs can become mainstream in next few years
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Jul 2015

With Singapore's rapidly ageing population, there will be more seniors needing care in future, but not enough carers to do the job.

This is why hospitals are turning to robots and other assistive technology to ease the burden on the manpower-strapped sector.

Instead of a nurse checking every 15 minutes for six hours to see if a patient who has had a catheter inserted is bleeding, a special blood-sensitive "bandage" can do the job, freeing the nurse for six hours of more fulfilling work.

A robot, not a therapist, can help recovering stroke patients exercise; another can keep early-stage dementia patients occupied and alert them to take their medicine, or to call for a helper when it senses that they are struggling to get up.

Call it Changi General Hospital's (CGH) answer to the labour crunch. This technology can become mainstream within the next few years.

Dr Chionh Chang Yin, who heads renal medicine at CGH, plans to trial the blood-sensitive bandages designed by the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) later this year.

If it works as well as expected, it can be used for not only dialysis patients, but also heart patients who have had a stent put in, or had to do an angiogram to check the heart.

Bleeding from the puncture hole is rare, said Dr Chionh, but should it happen, a patient can bleed to death if not treated immediately.

The SUTD device can tell blood from other fluids, and will set off an alarm if it senses one millilitre of blood.

The idea for the Centre for Healthcare Assistive and Robotics Technology (CHART), started early last year and launched by President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday, was triggered by the visit of a team from Japan in 2012 wanting to know if there was a market for such products.

Dr Lee Chien Earn, CGH's chief executive officer, said some technology might be great, but not what patients or hospitals want. So CGH decided to work with industry on what it needs instead.

"It's better to create solutions to meet needs," he said. "The user must be involved from the start."

The technology does not have to be new, he said. It can be something used in other industries that can be adapted to healthcare needs.

Examples that are now being tweaked to fit healthcare settings include automated guided vehicles used in warehouses. A unit can carry shelves holding food, linen or files, or move heavy items like beds. All it needs is a map of the hospital to find its way around.

The idea is to "take the manual out of healthcare", said Chart's director, Ms Selina Seah, adding that it is increasingly hard to find people to fill jobs like porters.

A team from the Nanyang Technological University took six months to convert an industrial robotic arm to pick and pack a range of objects, including fragile items.

Ms Seah said the robot arm can work non-stop and do the job without mistakes, unlike people who get tired and could become careless.

Dr Tan said Chart provides a platform for research institutes, companies and healthcare practitioners to collaborate in the development of new, impactful healthcare delivery solutions.

He revealed that Chart will be part of the National Robotics Programme. The Government will release details later this year of this multi-agency initiative to test-bed robotic technologies across various sectors, he said.

President Tan also officially opened the 280-bed Integrated Building shared by CGH and Saint Andrew's Community Hospital.

President Tony Tan was here today to officially open our Integrated Building and the Centre for Healthcare Assistive and...
Posted by Changi General Hospital (CGH) on Thursday, July 23, 2015

Machines give rehab patients a leg-up, reminders and more
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 24 Jul 2015

Patients recovering from stroke need to train their muscles to work again and the journey back to health for the more than 6,000 people who suffer a stroke each year can be long and tedious.

Several projects being worked on in Changi General Hospital's (CGH) Centre for Healthcare Assistive and Robotics Technology (Chart) are to help such patients rehabilitate.

Japanese company Yaskawa has a leg rehabilitation robot that provides passive exercise to recovering patients. It exercises the hip, knee and ankle joints and the leg muscles.

Today, a therapist moves the leg for the patient for about 15 minutes, and it can be very tiring especially with big patients, said Ms Elaine Gomez, head of rehabilitative services at CGH.

But she wants more from the machine than what it now does - which is to move the leg forward, backward and up, but along the same plane.

She wants it to rotate the leg and to move it sideways as well, as this is what a therapist has to do. If it does the job, such machines might become standard in community hospitals, nursing homes and day rehabilitation centres.

Saint Andrew's Community Hospital had asked for equipment that can monitor if exercises are done correctly by patients, without the need for a therapist staying throughout with the patient.

The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) obliged with a pole that patients need to place on a rack.

It records if the pole is held horizontally or slants in favour of the weaker arm.

It lights up when patients do it properly, and signals when it is placed wrongly.

This way, the therapist needs only to check the data to know how the patient is doing.

Other technologies being tested include a bed from Panasonic that can be split in half and turned into a wheelchair, so patients do not need to be lifted from the bed to a wheelchair. However, it is not waterproof, so the patient can't shower in it.

Then there is Nico, a little robot that can extract data, such as blood pressure or temperature, from wearable devices on patients and send the data to a doctor's computer.

It can do a lot more, said Professor Chen I-Ming of the Nanyang Technological University, which has five professors and 15 researchers working on five projects with CGH.

Nico can be used in the wards to keep an eye on patients. It can sense when a patient tries to get out of bed and can tell them to call a nurse rather than stagger on their own to the toilet.

It can also be used at home to remind patients with early dementia to take their medicine, carry out simple conversation, or entertain them with song and dance. To suit local needs, it can also be programmed to speak in different languages or dialects.

The prototype costs about $2,000.

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