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4 Ways Technology Developed in Hospitals Supports Medical Advances

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Advances in healthcare technology are allowing hospitals to deliver safer, more effective and higher quality care to patients. In fact, one could say that technology is helping take medicine to places no one has gone before.  

As Marc Siegel, MD, a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Medical Center, >writes in a column, "Remember when Dr. McCoy on 'Star Trek' was able to make diagnoses with a tricorder and perform brain surgery or seal ruptured vessels by simply putting a futuristic band around a patient's head? That kind of medicine seemed like pure fantasy at the time. Now these solutions appear to be right around the corner."

Here are four ways technology recently developed or how under development in hospitals is helping pave the way for medical advances.

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1. Improved detection of trauma

In the hope of saving the lives of more trauma patients, doctors and researchers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., in collaboration with colleagues at several other organizations, are working to develop a system for the detection of ongoing internal hemorrhaging for patients initially classified as seriously injured but stable, according to a news release.

Supported by a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, the noninvasive system would use a combination of machine learning and sensing technology to improve early detection of hemorrhaging and alert emergency providers when a patient begins to deteriorate.

In the news release, Norman Paradis, MD, an emergency physician at Dartmouth-Hitchcock who is serving as the project's principal investigator, said, "Individual patients will benefit from early intervention and medical systems will benefit because they can focus their attention and resources on patients who have been correctly identified as needing immediate care, while our system continuously monitors their other patients. … We anticipate not only creating an innovative medical technology, but to also producing important new science."

2. Identification of patients at risk of opioid addiction

To help combat the opioid epidemic, University Hospitals (UH) in Cleveland developed a logistics platform that helps identify patients at risk of opioid misuse and dependence.

UH Care Continues is a technology-enabled discharge-planning process that uses algorithms to alert caregivers when opioids are prescribed, according to a news release. Once informed, caregivers and the prescriber can have a consultation regarding the prescription's appropriateness and make changes or alternative care recommendations, if necessary. The solution is also designed to help navigate patients to alternative, non-pharmacologic pain treatment modalities.

In the release, Eric Beck, DO, MPH, emergency medicine physician and president of UH Ventures, the business innovation arm of the UH system which designed the system, said, "Given the current opioid crisis plaguing our state and the nation, UH is taking an aggressive approach to patient safety around pain management and the appropriate use of opioids as well as other controlled substances. This new platform provides us with a unique opportunity to limit, by ensuring necessity, many of the opioid prescriptions contributing to risk for opioid misuse and dependence."

3. "Smart" HIV detection and monitoring

While medical advances have helped people in the United States diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) live nearly as long as someone who does not have the virus, the same cannot be said for all parts of the world.

In fact, detecting HIV and providing the long-term monitoring the virus requires is quite difficult in those areas lacking resources, infrastructure and trained medical professionals. This predicament led investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston to design a mobile diagnostic tool that helps address the challenge.

As a news release notes, this portable solution combines nanotechnology, a microchip, a cellphone and a 3D-printed phone attachment to create an affordable solution capable of detecting the RNA nucleic acids of HIV from a single drop of blood. The platform allowed the detection of HIV with more 99% percent specificity and nearly 95% sensitivity at a cost of less than $5 per test.

In the release, Hadi Shafiee, PhD, principal investigator in the Division of Engineering in Medicine and Renal Division of Medicine at the Brigham, said, "Health workers in developing countries could easily use these devices when they travel to perform HIV testing and monitoring. Because the test is so quick, critical decisions about the next medical step could be made right there. This would eliminate the burden of trips to the medical clinic and provide individuals with a more efficient means for managing their HIV."

Investigators believe the technology can provide a method to diagnose other viruses and bacteria.

4. Detection of particles linked to neurodegenerative disorders

While magnetoencephalography — a non-invasive technology that measures and analyzes human brain activity — is not new, investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston are using the technology to better understand neurodegenerative disorders. 

As a news release notes, the investigators, working out of MGH's Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, are applying the technology to measure levels of the microscopic mineral magnetite in living human brains. Until now, the presence of magnetite could only be studied in post-mortem brains. Evidence suggests that the mineral may play a role in neurodegenerative disorders. 

In the release, David Cohen, PhD, of the Martinos Center, said, "The ability to accurately measure the increase of magnetite particles and their location in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer's and other disorders could provide important clues to disease progression and clinical care."

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