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Innovative patch may soon be used to monitor coronavirus patients remotely 24/7

2020/Apr/23

Belgian companies join forces to help ease healthcare burden

A Belgian consortium of seven medical and technological companies has developed an innovative patch that is applied to the chest. The patch allows continuous, remote, wireless monitoring of coronavirus patients’ respiration, heart rate and soon also temperature. The system will be able to send the recorded levels to the patients’ general practitioner or specialist and also has an alert feature like the red button by a hospital bed. “The concept was initially developed for patients with heart failure, but clearly also has potential for the follow-up of coronavirus patients. The first clinical trials are starting in a few weeks and we are aiming for a wider roll-out in a few months. We hope that this will allow more and better patient follow-up at home and in care homes in the event of a possible new coronavirus surge in the autumn. The other objective is to have care workers spend less time on daily checks and data entry," Hans De Clercq of Byteflies, one of the partners, says.

During the development of the 'COVID-19 smart patch', each partner in the consortium – Belgian companies Byteflies, Melexis, Quad Industries, Televic and Z-Plus and the Belgian departments of multinationals Henkel and Nitto – provided expertise and a technology component to create this innovative, comprehensive solution. The result is an adhesive patch that is about 15 cm long. The patch is applied to the left side of the chest. This is very easy to do and requires no medical knowledge. Thanks to the patch’s brand new material technology, it only needs replacing every five days. It has been developed especially for skin-friendly, medical use and contains high-tech electrodes and conductive inks to register vital signs. A mini temperature sensor will also be integrated soon. A ‘sensor dot’ located in the centre of the patch collects the patient’s vital signs and sends all the data to the cloud wirelessly. The healthcare centre’s nurses and the patient’s general practitioner or specialist can then access this cloud data on a user-friendly platform.

The system can also be connected to a bracelet that is compatible with the existing systems and can also be used as a red button by a hospital bed, as it connects the patient to the healthcare centre. A care provider at the centre can perform an initial assessment, give initial advice based on the registered data and how the patient is feeling, and make a targeted referral to a hospital if necessary. The bracelet also shows the patient’s location, which is of interest for follow-up in hospitals or care homes. The system can also be linked to a pulse oximeter and include that data in the cloud to give the physician a more complete picture.

Covid-19 smart patch with Nitto skin-friendly adhesive

More peace of mind and easing the burden on care staff

The system was initially set up to monitor the vital functions of patients with heart failure and epilepsy, but is now about to be tested in about twenty corona patients. The companies in the consortium aim to be ready to roll out the system on a wide scale by the autumn, so that they can ease some of the burden on hospitals, care homes and their staff in the event of a possible new virus surge. "At the moment most COVID-19 patients’ vital signs are recorded manually. The staff in hospitals and care homes need to take these vital signs several times a day and then process the data manually. Our system has the potential to save them a lot of time and reduce the amount of times they are exposed to possible infection," Hans De Clercq adds.

"The system also offers great advantages to patients in home quarantine or in care homes," De Clercq adds. "People no longer have to take and send measurements to their physician every day themselves. It all happens automatically. The system also gives people more peace of mind. They can be certain that the measurements are correct and they are being monitored constantly. This means that they can take the appropriate action quickly and they can contact a care provider at a healthcare centre immediately if necessary. This can offer great reassurance, particularly to elderly people in retirement homes and their families. The system will also reassure general practitioners and home nurses with regard to their patients and ease some of the monitoring burden.”

Oost-Limburg Hospital to start first clinical tests

The medical world is already showing an interest in the system. Oost-Limburg Hospital will be the first to start clinical trials with the 'COVID-19 smart patch'. "We are already running remote monitoring tests based on manual measurements taken by the patients themselves. This patch is an interesting complement to this. That is why we will start testing the patch in about 20 of our patients as soon as possible," says Dr Pieter Vandervoort, cardiologist, medical coordinator of Future Health ZOL and head lecturer at UHasselt.

Based on this test, the consortium hopes to roll out the system more widely in other hospitals and care homes within a few months. "We could use this system in 1,000 patients by October, when another virus surge may occur," Byteflies co-founder Hans Danneels says. "We are already in touch with the cabinets of Flemish Minister of Health Wouter Beke and Vice-Minister President Hilde Crevits. An expert advisory board has also been set up to ensure that the system has an effective impact on the coronavirus crisis in the short term. This board includes virologist Marc Van Ranst, Inge Vervotte of Emmaus vzw, Lieven Danneels – co-CEO of Televic, Dr Pieter Vandervoort and Wim Robberecht – CEO of university hospital UZ Leuven.

Belgian consortium

The smart patch concept is the result of the collaborative efforts of seven medical and technical companies and the Future Health department of Oost-Limburg Hospital and Hasselt University. Each of these contributors has combined its expertise and technologies into a single innovative system. Antwerp Byteflies, which is already medically certified in this area, created the sensor that monitors the data and sends it to the platform. The Westerlo-based innovation hub of Henkel – the global market leader in innovative adhesives – developed the electrodes and conductive inks. Thanks to its innovative material, the patch can be used for 5 days rather than just 1 day. Quad Industries printed these electrodes, conductive inks and adhesives and integrated them into wearable patches. The Belgian branch of Japanese multinational Nitto Denko Corporation developed the patch’s skin-friendly, easy-to-remove adhesive for medical use, which increases the patient's comfort significantly. Belgian microchip expert Melexis developed the temperature sensor and also contributed its expertise to the project. Televic – a specialist in high-tech communication systems that is based in the west of Belgium – developed the ingenious platform that collects the data and alerts users when levels deteriorate. Healthcare centre Z-Plus has ensured that the patch’s measured levels are monitored by its nurses, gives personal feedback to the patients and immediately notifies the hospital and physician in case of any deviating or alarming levels.

Healthcare of the future

All parties truly believe in the consortium. It is the perfect combination of technology and healthcare. "This is the healthcare of the future," Hans Danneels says. "We can ease the workload of our healthcare staff significantly with digitalisation and smart systems: all-in-one solutions that are easy and quick to implement. We can only do that by collaborating with specialists and by combining our expertise and innovative solutions. This is a prime example of such collaboration, of which we are very proud."

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