Anticipating a time when hospital identification bracelets will be replaced by wearable devices communicating live clinical data, a consortium of Adelaide researchers is developing technological solutions to improve post-operative clinical care for kids.

In a pilot study into the recovery process of young patients, motion data was used to identify movement signatures associated with health conditions and stages of recovery, building a better understanding of the healing progress of children, for whom the challenge of quantifying pain can be inhibited by communication barriers.

The Data Dissect team of computer scientists, data scientists, mathematicians, surgeons, anaesthetists and students led by Sanjeev Khurana, a paediatric surgeon at Adelaide’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and Dr Damith Ranasinghe, head of the Auto-ID Laboratory at the University of Adelaide, has recently completed phase two of the research.

“We envision the situation where the doctor on the ward can take out a tablet and view a live data feed on the patients under their care, remotely monitoring any number of variables and receiving alerts, predictions and updates according to personalised patient-specific care plans,” said researcher and University of Adelaide medical student Stefan Court-Kowalski of the project’s potential.

The first of the research phases was an exploratory trial involving six volunteers spanning childhood and adult ages, with the second recruiting 50 children aged between five and 17 for research designed to capture and interpret the “deluge of data” produced by patients.

“Our research team uses the rather vivid image of a patient as a deluge of data: information is flooding out constantly in their words, their actions, their vital signs, nursing notes, doctors’ notes, allied health assessments, demographic information and so on,” Court-Kowalski said.

“Our general philosophy is to imagine new ways to capture as much of this information as we can, harness the power of modern analytical and artificial intelligence methods to synthesise it, and then present meaningful information to clinicians so it can be folded into their own decision-making process."

Clinician response following the pilot study has been encouraging.

“Having set out to answer a very specific question – namely, how feasible is it to capture clinically relevant motion data – we’ve found that our approach has captured many clinicians’ imaginations in terms of the potential for wearable technology to provide fresh insight into their patients’ health status.”

This extends beyond motion data, with advances in technology extending the possibilities further to include conventional vital signs, as well as novel metrics.

“Our vision for the project involves developing a comprehensive system that encompasses many different metrics and leverages the incredible techniques modern data science can offer, including powerful analytics and vivid data visualisation tools,” Court-Kowalski said.

“Harnessing the vast quantities of information available – clinical parameters, medical history, written notes, demographic data, population health statistics, new measures like motion, and many more – could further empower clinicians to make rational, evidence-based decisions about the care of their patients.

In the next stage of the project, researchers will aim to double the patient number while studying the recoveries of children who have undergone appendectomies.

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