Innovations in healthcare: The Technische Universität Mittelhessen (THM) is at the centre of worldwide digital research and development. A device that warns of Sudden Infant Death, an app that reduces waiting times at the doctor’s office or a nursing robot that relieves the burden on nurses – the future of medicine begins in Central Hessen.
As a child, Keywan Sohrabi noticed that in the film series Star Trek, Dr. Spock could call up all the information he had ever received on a small device at any time. Inspired by this, Sohrabi, today a doctor and professor at the Technical University of Central Hesse (THM), and a team of researchers developed a tiny, contactless device for health care that was to save people’s lives. This device records both the breathing and sleeping behaviour of babies – as soon as an infant suddenly stops breathing at night, the device sounds the alarm. A sensation, because Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) could be avoided in the future. Other respiratory diseases that are widespread in children can also be monitored with the device. The researchers call QuietamNox long-term audio-visual monitoring, which translates as ‘quiet night’. The QuietamNox device, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), is expected to be ready for use by 2021.
Healthcare 4.0: The doctor's visit of the future
Another innovation from Central Hesse is the “Warts-Ab” app developed by THM computer science professor Dr. Thomas Friedl. The idea behind it: no long waiting times in the waiting room, no infection by other patients. Because: Those who have a doctor’s appointment may leave the doctor’s office immediately after registration. Only when it is a patient’s turn does he or she receive a notification via app and can walk directly into the treatment room without any detours. Friedl and his THM team received support for this app from the Hessian Ministry of Social Affairs and the Techniker Krankenkasse (TK). Overall, reduced waiting room occupancy means a lower probability of spreading diseases, distractions or complaints in the waiting area (which can burden other patients and distract staff). The app is still in the test phase. The demand is already promising: many doctors in the region have expressed their interest in the app.
Digital Healthcare: Changing Medicine
The digital healthcare landscape includes everything from mobile health (mHealth), health information technology (IT) through wearable devices, telehealth and telemedicine, and personalized medicine, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). With everyone from technology companies, medical research institutes and national governments developing digital health, the opportunities have never been better for optimal, efficient health care.
A robot as a nurse
The shortage of skilled workers is still a major problem in the health sector. Whether it is a shortage of doctors, nurses or carers – the search for specialists is desperate. Their range of services extends far beyond nursing activities, because they often communicate with the sick and contribute significantly to their well-being and mental recovery. Often the nursing staff is overloaded with work, leaving little time for interactive communication with the patients.
This is where Robot Pepper comes in: a humanoid robot that has the ability to understand gestures and facial expressions, to react to them and to communicate easily. The question of whether and to what extent Pepper can take on nursing tasks is the focus of a current interdisciplinary study in which THM is cooperating with the Bardt nursing home in Heringen in eastern Hesse. With the aim of testing the possible applications of Pepper in a nursing home, Prof. Dr. Gerrit Sames is supervising a team of THM computer science and business administration students. Can Pepper talk to people in need of care, act as a social partner, or even encourage patients to drink regularly? Yes. The team found out that Pepper can take over important tasks just by targeted communication and thus is a great help for nursing staff. In conversation with the seniors, Pepper was able to convince them: Properly programmed, he is also capable of telling stories like The Ugly Duckling. The conclusion of the study? The costs of the robot are currently still too high for it to be worth the effort. However, the THM team is optimistic that Pepper and other humanoid robots will be a good support in the care sector in the near future.
Genau hier kommt Roboter Pepper ins Spiel: Ein humanoider Roboter, der die Fähigkeit besitzt, Gestiken und Mimiken zu verstehen, darauf zu reagieren und einfache Kommunikation zu betreiben. Die Frage, ob und inwieweit Pepper pflegerische Aufgaben übernehmen kann, steht im Mittelpunkt einer aktuellen interdisziplinären Studie, bei der die THM mit dem Bardt-Pflegeheim in Heringen zusammenarbeitet. Zusammen mit einem Team aus THM-Studierenden der Informatik und Betriebswirtschaft betreut Prof. Dr. Gerrit Sames das Projekt. Ihr Ziel: die Einsatzmöglichkeiten von Pepper in einem Pflegeheim zu testen. Dabei arbeiten sie an Fragen wie: Kann Pepper mit pflegebedürftigen Menschen sprechen, als Sozialpartner fungieren, oder die Patienten gar zum regelmäßigen Trinken animieren? Erste Ergebnisse zeigen: Pepper kann wichtige Aufgaben, allein durch gezielte Kommunikation übernehmen und ist eine große Hilfe für Pflegekräfte. Denn im Gespräch mit Senioren konnte Pepper überzeugen: Richtig programmiert ist er auch dazu imstande Geschichten, wie Das hässliche Entlein zu erzählen. Das Fazit der Studie: Die Kosten des Roboters sind aktuell noch zu hoch, als dass sich der Einsatz lohnt. Das THM-Team ist jedoch optimistisch, dass Pepper und andere humanoide Roboter in naher Zukunft eine gute Unterstützung im Pflegebereich darstellen.
From Middle Hesse to the world
Whether life-saving technologies, innovative programs or humanoid robots: Central Hessen is a pioneer in research and development in the health sector worldwide. This is where healthcare innovations of the future are created. Three universities and a university hospital with two locations make the region a hotspot of the medical sector. THM is at the centre of the development and optimisation of technologies for the healthcare sector. In October 2019, the new Master’s course in Digital Medicine was launched. The course focuses on the digitalisation of the health care system with the aim of preparing students for technology-based modern medicine. It therefore remains exciting to see what further ideas and innovations THM will produce in the future.
Technische Hochschule Mittelhessen
The THM (German: Technische Hochschule Mittelhessen), or University of Applied Sciences Middle Hessen, offers programs that closely connect science and practical applications. It is the fourth largest University of Applied Sciences in Germany. More than 50 master and bachelor degree programs cover subjects in science, business, and social sciences.