Remote monitoring of ill patients is one of the great business growth opportunities of the early 21st Century. It is a sector in which a Belfast company has established itself as a market leader.
“We have developed what we describe as the world’s first wearable, intelligent and non-invasive device for monitoring vital signs remotely,” says Michael Caulfield, chief executive of Intelesens. Using what Caulfield calls a “Band Aid” type adhesive sensor, an electronic device monitors the health of a patient and transmits the findings to the clinician, using web technology.
The devices designed and made by Intelesens are potentially very attractive to health providers: not least because they can greatly improve the management of ill people. This applies equally to people in hospital and patients at home. Fewer than 10% of patients in hospital are monitored while they are there. Intelesens’ devices offer a low cost technology solution to increase this.
For patients who permanently live with chronic conditions – such as diabetes, bronchitis, asthma and heart disease – the devices can also be used by clinicians to monitor conditions on a regular basis while the patient is at home. This should improve the quality of life for the patient, assist with safe but earlier hospital discharge and cut readmissions.
By avoiding the need for many patients to be in hospital, the costs of treatment can also be reduced. “Obama and Brown are talking about the increasing costs of healthcare, and telling us that they are not going to be affordable,” explains Caulfield. “They will not tolerate people sitting in hospital for as long. Our technology allows you to monitor patients without bringing them in as an in-patient, or even an out-patient.”
Instead, clinicians will be able to do a daily ‘electronic round’ of patients, checking the condition of patients from their own offices, based on the readings from Intelesens’ remote monitoring devices. A choice of technologies can be used to transmit the data from the patient’s home – it can be a mobile device with a SIM card, via a home WIFI network, by attachment to a fixed broadband line, or a land line.
Intelesens is a spin-off from the University of Ulster’s Jordanstown campus. The company has since relocated to the Sydenham industrial estate in Belfast, where it employs 21 full and part time staff, the majority of whom are graduate engineers. The university’s UUTech arm remains a minority shareholder in Intelesens.
Although the company might appear to be an instant success this leading-edge technology has long been in planning. Three Ulster University professors have been developing sensor technology for several years, filing essential patents. One of the first indicators of the significance of their work came in the early 90’s when they were commissioned by the Russian space programme to develop sensing devices for use on cosmonauts.
Now a different type of take-off is imminent. “We are being courted by a number of really big healthcare companies who realise we have got something quite unique,” says Michael. “This is for the world market – for Obama and the Republic of China.” Success on a stratospheric scale is now a strong possibility.