Patient monitors measure the patient's condition and inform healthcare personnel in real time of possible symptoms and complications. Monitors save lives. For example, without a monitor it is difficult to notice if a patient's breathing is inadequate.
"Monitors measure ECG, respiration, blood pressure, oxygen saturation and body temperature, among other things," says GE Healthcare Finland's Managing Director, Erno Muuranto.
The devices are not always practical, however: the cables running from the monitor to the patient hamper movement, and they can also impede the work of doctors and nurses. Cables are also difficult to clean. In future we will soon get rid of all cables for good.
The development programme digital healthcare was launched three years ago. The new technology is ten times smaller than the original one, and the monitors are powered by batteries instead of cables.
"If the technology used for measuring ECG was previously the size of a palm, it's now the size of a fingernail. Wireless monitors are easy to take home, and patients are freed from cables," Muuranto says.
In practice, the old technology has been converted into wearable electronics: the miniature-sized patient monitor can be placed round the wrist or glued to the body.
GE's Tekes project ended at the end of 2017, when the new wireless products were completed. The next phase is productization. Muuranto estimates that the first commercial applications of the new patient monitors will be brought to the market in 2019.
GE Healthcare's patient monitoring system was built in collaboration with more than 40 subcontractors. Some of these were directly contacted by GE, while others were identified through various events, such as seminars and trade shows. GE's main design partner, Bittium, was recommended by a customer.
"The decision was influenced by our extensive expertise in the design and specification of wireless equipment. We were able to offer GE knowledge of mechanical strength, information security and mobile, battery-powered devices," says Bittium's customer account director Tommi Kangas.
According to Kangas, the project gave Bittium not just an opportunity to grow its business but also to learn about an industry they were not previously familiar with. The mobile phone and base station designer decided to invest in medical industry.
"With the medical certificate we got in Autumn 2017 we can continue co-operating with health organisations and take responsibility from larger projects", says Kangas.
The medical industry was new for software company NE Device SW as well. The company designed the user interface for the patient monitor prototype.
"Our style is rapid-cycle changes, which was a considerable advantage from GE's perspective. When it's hard to foresee all possible problematic scenarios in advance, it is better to make changes as the device is tested," says NE Device SW's principal software engineer, Veli-Pekka Tirkkonen.
NE Device SW CEO Moyeen Ahmad explains that as a subcontractor, NE Device SW was interested in the ambitious goal of the project. The company team visited a hospital to familiarise themselves with the industry and to understand the environment for which the products are designed. "Our employees even learnt industry terminology in their spare time," Ahmad remarks.
During the monitor project the Finnish organisation of GE Healthcare grew with over 100 employees. 60 of them were employed straight for the project and the rest elsewhere in the organization. GE Healthcare funded the monitor project with 18.5 million euros. GE will be investing tens of millions more in their next step, productization
For GE, the key benefit of the monitor project is that the company will get new technology for its product portfolio, which can increase its market share.
"Our net sales could double thanks to the new technology," Muuranto notes.
But why did GE choose Finland as the country in which to develop patient monitoring? According to Muuranto, the decision was greatly influenced by Tekes' support.
"GE operates in almost every country, and the project could have been implemented in the US, India or, say, China. When a company is considering where it can get the best value for its money, public innovation funding is really helpful," Muuranto says.
Seamless cooperation with hospitals also played a role in GE's decision to invest in Finland. Here, equipment was tested and validated in a hospital environment.
Muuranto explains that the patient monitor project has provided a great boost to GE Healthcare's Finnish operations. "It has strengthened Finland's position in our global company."
Text: Kaiku Helsinki
Picture: GE Healthcare