Montreal’s OROT solves COVID problems with new tech
August 31, 2020
MONTREAL – A new research and innovation hub in Montreal is running trials of several ground-breaking technologies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The hub was launched earlier this year by the Integrated Health and Social Services University Network for West-Central Montreal and the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) to re-imagine the future of healthcare. Once the pandemic struck with full force, the centre, called OROT, quickly refocused its efforts on the healthcare crisis at hand. OROT means “light” or “illumination” in Hebrew.
“The Jewish General Hospital was the first hospital in Quebec designated to treat patients with coronavirus, so we had to adapt our operations to the reality of having a large number of highly infectious people in need of our care,” said Danina Kapetanovic, OROT’s strategic advisor for entrepreneurship and innovation.
“We quickly saw a need for technology to play a role and augment our capacity to deliver care in a way that not only protects our patients, but also protects our healthcare workers – who we know are at higher risk of being infected when exposed for long periods of time to patients with COVID-19.
“Reducing the waste of personal protective equipment was another motivating factor because when you’re in contact with patients, there are certain protocols you have to follow that include frequent changing and in that context there’s always a risk of shortages, so the idea is to minimize contact with patients while still providing excellent care.”
One of the new technologies OROT is trialing is a My Vitals smartphone app developed by Israeli startup Binah.ai and Montreal-based Carebook Technologies Inc. Using a smartphone’s camera and photoplethysmography (ppg) sensor, the app measures heart rate, heart rate variability, respiration, oxygen saturation and mental stress levels without any contact or leads.
The app works by gauging light absorption on a person’s cheeks and detecting the rate of blood flow under the skin. From these signals, it can provide highly accurate readings of vital signs using analytics and artificial intelligence.
Pending a successful clinical trial designed to compare readings from My Vitals with industry-standard hospital equipment, the app can be used by patients in negative-pressure COVID-19 rooms to self-monitor their vital signs, reducing the exposure of nurses who would otherwise have to enter the rooms more often.
The app can also alert COVID-19 patients at home to seek hospital care if their vital signs worsen. Patients simply point the phone at their face and take a picture using the app.
The Jewish General Hospital is also one of the first healthcare institutions in North America to experiment with Microsoft’s HoloLens, an untethered mixed-reality headset ideal for limiting the exposure of healthcare professionals to COVID-19 patients.
“With a single person in the hospital room, we can secure the information we need about a patient’s condition while minimizing the risk of infection spread,” explained Dr. Lawence Rudski, chief of cardiology and director of the JGH’s Azrieli Heart Centre. “With the HoloLens and the Dynamics 365 Remote Assist app … a physician or other healthcare professional dons PPE and a HoloLens and enters the patient room while colleagues view the images (on a computer screen) and consult from a safe locale elsewhere in the hospital.”
Several successful simulations have been carried out involving COVID-19, palliative care, intensive care and wound care patients at the JGH.
“The HoloLens is very helpful in the context where you have to physically distance yourself from the patient, but we see a use case beyond COVID-19,” noted Kapetanovic.
“A wound care specialist, for example, can only cover so much territory, but if she’s able to provide guidance to home care nurses equipped with a HoloLens, you can amplify the coverage.”
Other innovative technologies being deployed by OROT include Israeli startup Maisha Labs’ COVID-19 Decision Support System, which uses the SSI algorithm and locally generated data to predict future COVID-19 patient volumes with 98 percent accuracy, and Montreal-based EQ Care’s platform for mental health support services.
“The Maisha Labs dashboard tells us what we can expect the patient load to be a week ahead of time and that allows us to plan resources, organize bed flow, PPE and staffing,” said Kapetanovic. It can also provide healthcare professionals with 24/7 situational awareness of patient status by collating vital signs and lab results in a dashboard and signaling patient deterioration.
The EQ Care mental health platform is ideal in the context of mental health staff shortages and the increase in depression and anxiety resulting from social isolation during the pandemic, said Kapetanovic.
A computer-based self-treatment tool monitored by healthcare professionals, the EQ Care platform uses cognitive behavioural therapy to treat mild to moderate depression and anxiety.
“OROT is unique in that it is very focused on the creation of value,” said Kapetanovic. “It’s not innovation for innovation’s sake. Its mission is to collaborate with private sector companies and startups to address unmet needs in the healthcare system.
“We’re really just getting started. I came on board in April, so we’re still mapping out our plans. We will more than likely conform to a public-private consortium model funded by a combination of government grants, private sector investment and the support of our foundation.”
Before joining OROT, Kapetanovic served as executive director of Hacking Health, a global, grass-roots network of innovators committed to creating digital solutions to support healthcare systems. The network organized 160 hackathons around the world leading to more than 1,500 innovations.
Staffing and budgets for OROT are still to be finalized.