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Dec. 3, 2010 | Volume 21, No. 12

Center for Connected Medicine hosts 'Bionic Ear' inventor

Technology is transforming both the practice and delivery of medicine. This is nowhere more apparent than at the Center for Connected Medicine (CCM), a groundbreaking collaboration of UPMC and partners in information technology, communications, and health care that showcases the patient-centered health care model developed at UPMC. CCM recently hosted a pioneer of medical technology, Professor Jim Patrick, a member of the Australian research team that designed and developed the “bionic ear,” the first-ever multichannel human cochlear implant to treat hearing impairment.

Mr. Patrick, lead engineer, chief scientist, and vice president of Cochlear Limited, was in Pittsburgh as a guest of the DePaul School of Hearing and Speech in Shadyside, where students learn and thrive with the assistance of cochlear implant technology. Mr. Patrick was welcomed to CCM by Andrew Watson, MD, director, CCM, and vice president, International and Commercial Services Division, UPMC.

“Professor Patrick’s visit to CCM comes at a very exciting time in the evolution of what technology can do to transform patient care,” says Dr. Watson. “The Center for Connected Medicine is developing a telemedicine strategy to distribute knowledge and provide care to people from remote locations. This virtual medicine strategy reaches out to patients at home, on the road, and in other countries. It represents a fundamental change in health care delivery.”

Currently, recipients of cochlear implants need to make multiple visits to clinics where they originally were fitted with the devices. In the distributed service model of health care made possible by telemedicine, many of those technical adjustments will be made from home.

“We’re looking to be able to change the delivery model from a model where children and their parents have to make repeated trips to clinics, to a model in which the device is maintained remotely,” says Mr. Patrick.

CCM’s corporate partners are creating a state-of-the-art, integrated information technology infrastructure and software applications to shorten the patient-care cycle, improve quality of care, and reduce costs. CCM creates simulated hospital environments that demonstrate interoperability among the many components of health care delivery.

Telemedicine already has made strides in the delivery of remote care. Through store-and-forward telemedicine, for example, images or test results can be captured at remote sites and sent to a central facility for evaluation. This allows specialists at the central facility to use the information to create a treatment plan, which then is administered locally.

Telemedicine also allows for monitoring devices to be set up in a patient’s home. These devices use cellular signals, Bluetooth technology, or specially designed interfaces to answer medical questions and collect medical data, such as the patient’s weight, blood sugar levels, heart rate, and oxygenation. This data is sent instantly to a hospital to be monitored.

Video conferencing provides patients in remote areas with access to specially equipped clinics and specialists in real time without the need to leave their homes. Specialists can obtain the history of each patient and examine, diagnose, treat, and follow up remotely.

Connected medicine is integrating technology for a seamless flow of information and communication between providers and patients to improve efficiencies, health care costs, delivery of care, and most importantly, the quality of patient care. This constant communication places patients’ needs at the center of health care.

As remarkable as the cochlear implant has been, Mr. Patrick believes the technology, which has undergone 30 years of refinement, is still in its infancy. The device still has external components extending past the scalp. Continuing innovation in biomedical engineering, however, holds promise for totally implantable devices, auditory midbrain implants, and brainstem implants.

“Further into the future,” says Mr. Patrick, “we expect a fully implantable system. We have so far to go. In many ways we’ve just begun.” 

Through this integration of technology and medicine, the Center for Connected Medicine and biotechnical innovators like Jim Patrick fundamentally are changing the nature and vision of health care for the new century.

For more information about the Center for Connected Medicine, go to http://connectedmed.com. For more information about Mr. Patrick and cochlear implants, go to www.cochlear.com/au.


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