NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Spurred by a geographically dispersed population and health care resource constraints, New Zealand has become an international leader in the development and application of new medical technologies that improve health care and quality of life for elderly and chronically ill patients, while reducing costs. Many of these technologies help patients to avoid hospitalization and stay in their homes through innovative devices, software and wireless monitoring systems that engage patients in their own care and improve communications between patients and their health care team.
“New Zealand has achieved an internationally recognized high standard of health care, in part due to the country’s investment in research and early widespread adoption of health IT and other new medical technologies,” said George Arnold, Program Manager, Health, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. “This technology uptake has been fostered by a supportive network of national policy and standards, financial incentives, active involvement of organizations promoting health system integration, and robust privacy laws. Our objective is to improve care, especially for those with chronic health issues, by encouraging the development of innovative products and programs that increase communication between patients and health care providers and better coordinate care between general physicians, medical specialists, and the community.”
For example, research led by Prof. Olaf Diegel, director of the Creative Industries Research Institute at Auckland University of Technology, has led to the development of user-friendly health monitoring devices, like a blood pressure monitor that provide results in a way that patients can easily understand, allowing them to take a more active role in managing their health. His team has further developed software that inputs data from various home health monitoring devices (for such parameters as blood pressure, weight, temperature, and blood glucose) and gives patients information to better manage their diabetes, hypertension, weight and heart attack risk.
“Our ultimate aim has been to give patients the power to take better control over their own health status, keeping them active and well longer, and through prevention, cutting health care costs,” Prof. Diegel comments.
World leading robotics research at the University of Auckland is also aimed at improving care for the elderly at home or in assisted living facilities. In a partnership between the Auckland team and South Korea’s Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute, scientists are developing a new robot that may help improve health care and patient-physician communication for elderly people in residential care facilities, retirement communities or at home. The robot, currently undergoing testing in an Auckland retirement facility, is designed to remind people to take their medications, to monitor and communicate vital signs like blood pressure, heart rate or glucose levels to physicians, to report falls and the need for emergency services, and to entertain people with music, pictures and quotes.
“We are pleased with our studies to date, which show that robots can be acceptable to older people, and that many enjoy using them,” said Dr. Bruce MacDonald of the University of Auckland Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who is heading the Eldercare robot research group. He noted that in addition to the multi-function eldercare robots, which may find the greatest use in larger retirement housing and care facilities, the group envisions the availability of simpler, lower cost devices designed for home use.
A company that is already developing such devices is Chiptech, a Christchurch, NZ, designer and manufacturer of telecare and telehealth products. The primary function of Chiptech’s Personal Response Unit (PRU) is to send an alert for assistance when a wearable personal transmitter is activated within a user’s home or garden area. The PRU can remind patients to take their medication or health measurements such as blood pressure, monitor activity in the home and tell them the temperature. The PRU is already available commercially in Australia and New Zealand, and Chiptech expects to launch in other global markets over the next year.
“Our latest efforts are focused on intergrating a cost effective telehealth system into PRU that lets a person enter readings from other monitoring devices, like a glucose monitor or weight scale. The PRU then transmits that data over the phone to their care team,” said Abby Moore, sales and marketing coordinator at Chiptech. “A telehealth system helps to build a person’s confidence and awareness about their health conditions, provides the opportunity for earlier intervention by the care team, and targets support to those who need it most at the time.”
A collaborative effort at the University of Auckland, involving the schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Business and Economics, along with several New Zealand district health boards, is also aimed at developing technology-based ways to help patients with long-term chronic conditions to monitor and manage their health at home. Called ASSET (Application of Self-Management Systems Evaluation Trial), the program is targeted to patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart failure, chronic respiratory failure, diabetes or cardiovascular disease. As part of the program, a patient’s general physician, their specialist physician, a visiting nurse and the patient all agree on specific health measurements that the patient should monitor and try to achieve. When the patient records their measurements, the data results are transmitted online to their health care team. If measurements fall outside the agreed parameters, a visiting nurse is alerted by automated messaging from the patient hub, prompting a telephone call to the patient and a subsequent home visit when necessary.
“The aim of the ASSET program is to develop and implement a more integrated and technology-based approach to providing care, leading to earlier detection of serious problems and resulting in fewer emergency visits and hospital admissions,” said Cushla Currie, Business Development Manager – Medicine and Health, Auckland UniServices. “Chronic health conditions result in high costs to patients and families, as well as health care providers and payers. This new type of patient-centric care may help to improve the care and quality of life for people with chronic diseases as well as lower health care costs. Moreover, the high cost of caring for people with chronic illnesses is a worldwide problem, New Zealand’s leadership and innovation in this area may provide a model for better, more cost-efficient health care delivery in other nations as well.”