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The Future of Healthcare Technology – Event Report


Siavash Yazdanfar, an optical scientist at the GE's Global Research Center.

Touring the GE Research Center in upstate New York is a little like visiting the concept car section of an auto show. The concepts are often awe inspiring but do they result in something that you can buy that is exactly the same? Rarely. On the other hand, do the concepts highlight the manufacturer’s strategy, and influence offerings that are subsequently developed? Absolutely. As such, they serve as a glimpse into the future of the industry.

That’s exactly what happened on September 15, during a media tour of the GE Global Research Center hosted by GE Healthcare when more than a dozen journalists from leading U.S. and international media outlets were given a sneak peek into the future of healthcare.

The event titled “See the Future of Healthcare Technology Today,” featured three healthcare related projects to illustrate how GE is actively trying to answer the challenges of healthcare by bringing quality healthcare to more people worldwide.

For the first project, it was announced that the GE Healthcare Smart Patient Room pilot at Bassett Medical Center has been approved by the site’s Institutional Review Board to begin data collection. With the integration of this new technology into existing hospital rooms, the Smart Patient Room solution is designed to provide clinicians with real-time monitoring for patient risk and the ability to intervene via gentle notification. The Bassett system is designed to track protocol adherence such as proper hand hygiene compliance before and after interacting with a patient, periodic clinical rounding, and monitor for increased risk of patient fall.

According to the Institute of Medicine, medical error is the eighth leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for an estimated 44,000 to 100,000 preventable deaths per year. Falls alone cost the U.S. healthcare system $1 billion annually, according to the American Hospital Association.

The Smart Patient Room is a tangible example of how GE Healthcare through GE Global Research is working with leading hospital networks to create innovative solutions to those patient safety challenges. The project team is developing cutting edge technology that 1) intelligently and gently notifies clinicians in real-time and 2) provides actionable data that can lead to improvement in patient outcomes and a safer patient experience.

For the second project, a multidisciplinary team of chemists, biologists, engineers, and computer scientists are examining already developed tools and techniques that could be utilized to facilitate TB diagnosis and treatment selection at the point-of-care.

According to the World Health Organization, more than two million people are expected to die this year from Tuberculosis, mostly in developing countries without sophisticated testing technology or experienced clinicians.

GE researchers are exploring the integration of multiple tools already part of the GE Healthcare’s Life Sciences portfolio for other uses to possibly allow access to DNA analysis technologies at the point-of-care. Examples of technologies being examined include specialized sample collection technology (reactive paper), similar to the materials used to collect newborns’ blood for screening tests.

At GE’s research facilities in Bangalore, India and Shanghai, China, scientists are exploring imaging analysis tools developed for GE Healthcare to aid in computer-assisted analysis of patient samples. These samples, which typically are microscopic images of a patient’s sputum, or mucus from the lungs, are commonly used to stratify patients. Improvements in these existing computer-assisted tools could allow for more patients to be processed and greater accuracy in image assessment.

The third project came about as a result of the formation of a new technology organization in biosciences where GE began to integrate expertise in imaging agents with well-established core technology experience in optical engineering and imaging hardware. What resulted was a new research program and a new platform for GE Healthcare in optical imaging.

In 2010, there are expected to be more than 1.5 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in the U.S. alone according to the American Cancer Society. For many of those people, surgery or surgery combined with treatment is the only option. Because of that, GE Healthcare and GE Global Research saw the need and opportunity to start developing systems to help improve patient outcomes from cancer surgery.

GE researchers have made remarkable progress over the past few years. The team optimized a prototype imaging system with a fluorescent imaging agent to localize the margins of a tumor and illuminate these margins using a specially designed lighting system. The goal is to help reduce cancer recurrence and improve patient outcomes.

In parallel with this effort, GE researchers have developed another fluorescent imaging agent to illuminate and label most nerves in the body. This nerve labeling agent localizes to myelin, which is a major component of motor nerves and clinically important sensory nerves, such as the cavernous nerves of the prostate. The team at GE Global Research recently was awarded a four-year, $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to optimize the nerve labeling agent and imaging system.

In the future, this agent could help surgeons see delicate nerve endings that are prone to damage during certain procedures, such as prostate surgery. In addition, the nerve and tumor margin agents could be used together in the future to show surgeons what tissue to remove while also identifying sensitive areas such as nerves to avoid.

Like the cars at the auto show, all these projects are in still in the concept stage and much more research remains. They’re a glimpse into the future of GE Healthcare’s healthymagination focus to reduce costs, improve quality and increase access.

Oh and yes, they are awesome as well.