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Connecting across the world

The new era of community-based and technology-enabled healthcare requires joined-up thinking across the industry, as well as across global health systems. Continua Health Alliance is bringing together major players in medical technology to change the world of healthcare.

There is no more potent example of the impact of Web 2.0 technology on our lives, whether at work or at home, than the current evolution of a global network of wireless healthcare devices. As specialist companies work to develop wireless monitoring and diagnostic technologies that can help clinicians in track patient welfare in the community, spreading the new healthcare paradigm throughout modern society, the question remains: what links it all together?

Continua Health Alliance is part of the answer. It describes itself as “a non-profit, open industry coalition of the finest healthcare and technology companies joining together in collaboration to improve the quality of personal healthcare”. Its long-term goal is to establish “a system of interoperable personal health solutions” – building the technological foundation for a new era of healthcare when people with long-term health needs will remain independent and in control of monitoring and supporting their own well-being.

The Alliance has more than 230 member companies around the world. Its members range from global healthcare corporations (Baxter, GE Healthcare, Medtronic, Philips) and specialist providers of electronic healthcare systems (Cambridge Consultants, Omron, St Jude Medical, Tunstall Healthcare) to health provider organisations (NHS Connecting for Health) and major technology corporations (IBM, Nokia, Panasonic).

World of Health IT

In March 2010, Continua Health Alliance shared its ideas about developing a standards-based interoperability approach to personal health systems with the 3,000 attendees at World of Health IT (WoHIT), a leading forum for e-health in Europe.

“Continua is dedicated to supporting connected health initiatives worldwide,” said Chuck Parker, the Alliance’s Executive Director. “We feel WoHIT is an excellent fit for our priorities and brings together leaders from both Europe and around the world, resulting in incredible momentum and synergy for the connected health movement.”

Recently, Continua has strengthened its engagement with the European Union through its receipt of funding from the European Commission for a 12-month project, Smart Personal Health (see interview below). The project aims to develop understanding of the need for interoperability among personal health systems and other e-health systems across Europe.

The first in a series of workshops in conjunction with Smart Personal Health, ‘Enabling Integrated Care: Harnessing personal health systems for better outcomes across the care continuum’, took place as part of WoHIT 2010. The workshop provided a forum to explore opportunities and identify solutions for integrating personal health systems in routine healthcare, placing their use in the practical context of the work of clinicians and underlining the cost and patient outcome benefits of personal health systems.

Continua has also formed a partnership with Renewing Health, a major project co-funded by the EU with funding of over $19 million. The project aims to aid the implementation of connected health technology in homecare systems to assist patients suffering from cardiovascular or respiratory illnesses or diabetes.

Bring it home

The number of quality Continua-certified devices from the Alliance’s member companies has now reached 15. Recently certified products include:

• Omron BP792IT Home Blood Pressure Monitor. This monitor, which uses Bluetooth wireless technology, allows users of Omron blood pressure monitors to easily transmit data to electronic health applications.

• Omron HBF-206IT Body Composition Monitor. This monitor, which also uses a Bluetooth chip, enables users to gain a comprehensive view of their health level through several fitness indicators and transmit data easily to electronic health applications.

• Omron HJ-721IT Pedometer with HHX-IT1 Docking Station. This system enables a family to use individual pedometers and transmit their data easily to electronic health and fitness applications through one simple device.

• Toshiba Bluetooth Stack for Windows. This Bluetooth-enabled device links to a PC and records your vital data automatically, without any need for further user intervention.

• Texas Instruments MSP430 USB Agent Platform. This hardware and software platform enables companies to develop Continua-compliant portable medical devices (such as a blood pressure monitor, blood glucose meter, digital thermometer or pulse oximeter) more quickly and easily.

The bite of Bluetooth

A key medtech player in the Continua Health Alliance strategy is Cambridge Consultants. A world-leading technology product development firm based in London and Boston, Cambridge Consultants has played a crucial role in the emergence of wireless healthcare through its creation of the Bluetooth technology and its medical applications.

Among the company’s innovations is the Vena platform, launched in March 2008: a versatile and affordable Bluetooth chip (priced at $10) that allows medical devices such as blood pressure monitors to transmit data wirelessly. The Vena platform embeds both the emerging IEEE11073 standard, which ensures the compatibility of data exchanged between different types of devices, and the emerging Bluetooth Medical Device Profile, optimised for the secure transport of medical data, in a single chip.

The Vena platform can be used to connect multiple devices, providing a link to online records through a computer system. Vena has been adopted by Continua Health Alliance as a global platform for a network of interoperable wireless healthcare devices.

Paul Williamson, Head of Wireless Medical at Cambridge Consultants, spoke to Medtech Business about Vena’s significance for the emergent global wireless healthcare network: “Cambridge Consultants’ Vena platform has been specifically developed to be easily integrated into wireless healthcare devices at any stage of the design or production process, which has made it possible for companies to rapidly bring Continua-certified products to market.

“For example, it is this ease of implementation that enabled A&D Medical to commercialise its Vena-enabled blood pressure monitor and weighing scales last August. Our knowledge of Bluetooth technology, which Cambridge Consultants originally helped bring to the commercial market, has allowed us to think outside the box and embed Bluetooth-related technologies such as the Health Device Profile (HDP) for the secure transport of medical data onto a single chip at an affordable price.

“Current solutions in the telehealth space are often expensive, so Vena represents a disruptive low-cost technology for the medical home market. Vena provides consumers with tools they can use effectively at home, and with minimal effort and expense, to manage chronic conditions like diabetes or congestive heart failure as well as interact with their healthcare network.”

Unity is strength

Chuck Parker, Executive Director of Continua Health Alliance, spoke exclusively to Medtech Business and explained the significance of the Continua Health Alliance for the global medtech industry.

What are the main objectives of Continua Health Alliance? What are its primary implications for healthcare systems and for public health?

Continua Health Alliance represents more than 230 leading technology and healthcare companies dedicated to establishing a robust ecosystem of interoperable and connected personal health solutions that empower organisations and individuals to better manage health and fitness.

By harnessing technology to augment healthcare delivery, these personal connected health solutions can help address some of our most pressing healthcare challenges. Today’s providers are struggling to optimise patient care, improve clinical outcomes and enhance access, while reducing the skyrocketing costs associated with an ageing population, chronic diseases and unhealthy lifestyles. As the demand for medical services accelerates, the growing shortage of physicians and other healthcare professionals adds to these pressures.

Personal connected health solutions provide an important way to help meet some of these challenges. Consider that expenditures for individuals with chronic diseases in some countries consume more than 75% of total medical care costs. Remote observation can help by giving care teams easy access to accurate, ongoing trend data for vital patient information. Healthcare professionals are empowered to address potential health problems early on and provide solutions more quickly and easily as needed, which can reduce the number of consultations, unnecessary emergency room treatments or even critical situations.

Interoperability is crucial to spur the widespread adoption of connected personal health solutions and realise their full promise. Last year, Continua released its first Design Guidelines, a milestone toward establishing a diverse ecosystem of interoperable healthcare devices and solutions. The guidelines provide the framework for development, certification testing and implementation of interoperable, connected health devices. During the second quarter of 2010, Continua will issue the next generation of guidelines to enable an increased array of features and benefits.

Continua’s rigorous certification program provides consumers and healthcare providers with increased confidence that certified products will work together. More than a dozen Continua Certified devices are now available, and many more are poised to join the Continua ecosystem in the coming months.

Continua’s name suggests a broad-based systems approach. How can a ‘personal health ecosystem’ be most effectively supported by healthcare providers and medical technologies?

Personalised connected health solutions offer individuals the power to better manage their own health and fitness. By engaging patients, their loved ones and their caregivers as full partners and active participants in their care, these systems can help make health knowledge an integral part of daily living, encouraging healthier lifestyles. For those coping with chronic conditions or the limitations imposed by ageing, these systems can provide greater freedom and independence while also monitoring their safety and adherence to desired outcomes.

Hospitals and clinics will benefit by gaining easy access to necessary immediate information, enabling faster diagnoses and treatments with a diminished chance of error. The deployment of connected healthcare systems helps to eliminate gaps in the flow of patient data, providing a richer view of the overall health of an individual and ultimately enhancing efficiency, access and medical outcomes.

The ability to remotely manage a person’s health is becoming increasingly important, particularly for those coping with chronic conditions. Even as the shortage of healthcare professionals becomes more marked, they are responsible for an ever-increasing number of individuals. The effective use of connected health technology offers healthcare teams and physicians the ability to more efficiently manage the healthcare of multiple patients. Information gathered during consultations can be augmented with invaluable, ongoing trend data. Software that manages the flow of this information and provides high-level analysis will play an important part in connected health solutions by providing the ability to constantly monitor each patient’s data and send alerts for any significant changes that may require intervention.

Continua has a wide range of member companies. Given that innovation and product differentiation are essential for a company’s success, how is working within the Continua framework beneficial to members?

Although some of our members are direct competitors, they understand it will take industry-wide collaboration to develop a market for connected health devices and services. Continua Health Alliance and its members work together to define design guidelines for connected health solutions. By providing common design guidelines based upon some of the most widely-accepted technology standards in the industry, Continua’s members are able to shape the direction of the connected health industry while developing a larger market for solutions. These guidelines free member companies to focus on the specific features and functionality of their own solutions, rather than having to devote time and resources to the development of an entire networking and data transmission chain. The guidelines provide a common framework for each company to build upon to add value through specialisation and differentiation.

What new developments does Continua have planned for 2010?

Continua plans to issues its next generation of design guidelines during the second quarter of 2010. Two low-power radio standards have already been selected for incorporation in the next iteration of technology design guidelines for Bluetooth low-energy wireless technology and ZigBee Health Care technology. These guidelines will bring an increased array of features and benefits as additional devices join the Continua ecosystem.

As an international organisation dedicated to fostering personalised connected health solutions worldwide, Continua has a strong presence in the UK and Europe, as well as North America and Asia-Pacific. In 2010, Continua will remain active internationally. In the upcoming months, Continua plans to participate in key industry events in Spain (Mobile World Congress and World of Health IT), Japan (the key governmental launch of Continua) and Germany (third in a series of Smart Personal Health programmes). Additionally, the organisation hosts several summits a year throughout the world. Continua’s Summer Summit in June will take place in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and the Fall Summit will be held in Seoul, South Korea.

An important initiative for Continua in 2010 is the Smart Personal Health project. Continua recently announced the receipt of funding from the European Commission (EC) for this 12-month project. Smart Personal Health aims to promote awareness and a deeper understanding of the need for interoperability among personal health systems (PHS) and devices across Europe.

Continua is joined by European health standards groups such as the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) in building the Smart Personal Health project. Other project partners include Empirica and The Centre.

The project will culminate in a report to the European Commission in Brussels highlighting the current status, concerns, barriers and viable incentives to accelerate the development and adoption of interoperable personal health systems. The report will include recommendations to the European Commission, national governments, stakeholder groups and the industry at large for promoting interoperability.

Continua will also be participating in several European conferences and exhibitions in 2010, including NHS Smart Home, Ambient Assisted Living Forum, Medica and the Mobility Forum.

‘The deployment of connected healthcare systems helps to eliminate gaps in the flow of patient data, providing a richer view of the overall health of an individual and ultimately enhancing efficiency, access and medical outcomes.’

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