Thursday, July 18, 2024

Engineering equitable healthcare

Breaking down barriers to equitable healthcare using technology and innovation has become the mission of Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) engineering researchers.

From being awarded the Royal Society MacDiarmid Medal to winning the Prime Minister’s Science PrizeDistinguished Professor Geoff Chase holds a long list of accomplishments but he is far from resting on his laurels.

To improve access to healthcare, he has dedicated much of his career to working on disruptive innovations that make expensive products and services more affordable and accessible and has high hopes for the future.

Distinguished Professor Chase says that waiting lists to see specialists have grown considerably over the last two decades.

“Ideally, the big impact we make is breaking that cycle of long lists through automation, software, and smart use of data,” he says.

“These elements have made everything more productive and can give us this thing called extrinsic change.

“For every dollar you put in, innovations of this type give you two or three dollars back. This extrinsic change needs to come to healthcare to meet unsustainably growing demand.”

Distinguished Professor Chase also devotes much of this time to supervising PhD students. One of those students was Dr Lui Holder-Pearson, who is now the Director of Studies in Mechatronics (second-year Engineering) and Distinguished Professor Chase’s colleague. They work together at the UC Engineering lab to develop innovative advancements that aim to enhance healthcare efficiency.

“Almost everything we do in this lab is about access to healthcare,” says Dr Holder-Pearson, who hopes to get more recognition of the need to automate.

“Especially with an aging population, we can’t just afford to keep throwing more money into the healthcare sector to meet demand.”

Speaking about his career, Distinguished Professor Chase says working with students and clinically applying things here at UC, in intensive care units and in hospitals around the world, are the most interesting aspects of his work.

One of the disruptive innovation projects Distinguished Professor Chase is currently working on involves Dr Holder-Pearson, PhD student Dael Summerhays-Sunnex and master’s student Jordan Smith. They are engineering an AI-driven emotional recognition training tool to reduce ‘social blindness’. The team says the tool offers the opportunity for anyone to reach their potential and engage on a level in society they would like to.

“I think that small successes of projects like ours can show the potential of, and need for, automation,” says Dr Holder-Pearson.

“We also had the epic opportunity to learn more than we expected to,” he says about the project experience.

Well-connected with colleagues from around the world, Distinguished Professor Chase hopes to break barriers to equitable healthcare through knowledge sharing and collaboration internationally as well.

Applications to one of Europe’s biggest research and innovation funds, Horizon Europe, recently opened to researchers in Aotearoa New Zealand, which Distinguished Professor Chase welcomes.

“It’s not just access to money, it’s access to more opportunities. The diversity of ideas usually makes research stronger.”

“The advantage for us specifically is that there’s going to be more researchers here, actively looking for collaboration,” says Dr Holder-Pearson.

Distinguished Professor Chase is supervising a range of projects that aim to improve equitable healthcare including:

  • PhD student Isaac Fleet – Quantifying Patient Agitation in Critical Care Using Wearable Devices. Instead of relying on subjective assessments, Fleet is using stress metrics and other physiological data from wearable to analyse the agitation level of ICU patients and therefore the level of sedation.
  • PhD students Jaimey Clifton, Trudy Caljé-van der Klei and Ella Guy – Making information more accessible for those with acute and chronic respiratory illnesses.
  • UC researchers Jaimey Clifton, Ella Guy, Trudy Calje-Van Der Klei, Mia Uluilelata, Samuel Jackson, Samrath Sood, and Jordan Hill – Reducing the cost of breathing.

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