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Mobile Pediatric Health: Five Innovations to Watch

If your child has a fever or has been feeling ill, the last thing you want to is wake them up in the middle of the night to check their temperature. Likewise, if your child is in the hospital for an extended period of time, the last thing you want to deal with is the hassle of coordinating visitation hours for family members and friends. Well, now there are apps for that.

Pediatric healthcare innovations have not always received the attention they deserve, as the focus typically was on how the latest technology can benefit older patients. However, now with the great strides that mobile health has taken, these advancements have produced a number of inventions that specifically benefit children. From learning tools to apps, there are many products in this market that can fill certain voids for both children and their families.

1. Huggable, a robotic teddy bear with therapeutic value for hospitalized children

Dr. Peter Weinstock, Director of the Simulator Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, and Cynthia Breazeal, Director of the personal robots group at M.I.T’s Media Lab, have come together to produce Huggable — a social robot prototype that is currently being tested at Boston Children’s, which has invested $500,000 in social robotics research.

The 90-patient pilot study consists of three groups of children aged three to 10 years old: one-third play with Huggable, one-third interact with a virtual image of it on a tablet; and the final third play with a regular teddy bear. Each patient is recorded and also given a bracelet, Q Sensor, that can measure physiological changes. With help from researchers at Northeastern University, Boston Children’s is starting to collect and analyze the data.

Dr. Weinstock and Dr. Braezeal are hoping the study will help doctors further understand child patients’ emotional states, and Huggable could provide the dual function of collecting data and information from the patient as well as being a source of comfort or distraction to relieve anxiety.

“We think a lot about heart rate, blood pressure and how much oxygen is in the blood, but we don’t have a great monitor for how the children is feeling right now,” Dr. Weinstock said in an interview. “What we do know is that children who are happier, who feel better, it can have a big effect on healing.”

Photo courtesy of Wired

Photo courtesy of Wired

Huggable is an interactive, touchable bear. It is remotely controlled by an operator on a nearby laptop, which allows it to have a voice and converse with patients. Children can shake his paw, tell him jokes, play “I Spy” and other games. Eventually, the team hopes that Huggable will be able to operate independently through the advancements of artificial intelligence.

2. LightAide, a teaching tool for people with low vision and cognitive disabilities

Philips and Perkins Products have partnered to create LightAide, a vibrant, engaging LED screen that offers a wide range of learning activities for visually-impaired or mentally disabled children.

Photo courtesy of Phillips

Photo courtesy of Phillips

A simple and easy-to-use product, LightAide consists of a touch screen with 224 bright, multicolored energy-efficient LED lights. It is lightweight, portable and multi-user friendly, as up to four learners can use the screen simultaneously, allowing for turn-taking activities, negotiation and other social interaction facilitation. Using the activity sheets, other benefits include promoting understanding of cause and effect, alphabet and numbers, and sequencing and organizational skills. It instills the building blocks for literacy and basic mathematical functions.

Philips employee, Catherine Rose, provided the inspiration for LightAide, as her daughter, Alexis, is visually and audibly impaired and developmentally delayed. Knowing that many visually impaired children can still detect and respond to light, Rose wanted to channel this ability and use colored lights to engage and teach Alexis.

LightAide is being used by many educators, including therapists, teachers and physical therapists. The product allows them to assess how much a child can see, teach them to learn new skills and behavior and help a child reach and stretch. Researchers and designers hope to continue to develop this idea and further push LightAide’s potential by incorporating even more learning and communication.

“I feel like the proud parent to see the product grow,” Rose said in a press release. “But it’s even more powerful because I get to see the impact on students, including my own little girl.”

3. Propeller, a sensor that can help reduce the number of asthma attacks

Formerly known as Asthmapolis, Propeller Health has developed a blue-tooth sensor and accompanying smartphone app system that can help parents and patients manage one’s asthma. The latest model is not only smaller but also features Bluetooth Low Energy, which extends the battery life to over 18 months without needing to recharge it.

The Propeller device is an add-on piece that easily attaches to one’s inhaler. It detects where and when the inhaler is used, which can provide more insights about environmental factors that may trigger attacks.

Photo courtesy of M Health News.

Photo courtesy of M Health News

When using with the app, Propeller communicates relevant information to the user, such as usage patterns and real-time coaching on one’s condition. Via feedback, reminders, notifications, and self-management education, Propeller increases adherence to medication and reduces the frequency of respiratory health systems. The app now is even able to prevent future attacks by notifying the patient in advance.

“Under the new clearance, the Propeller system can now be used to help predict exacerbations in patients with asthma and COPD,” the company said in an announcement. “By comparing Metered-Dose Inhaler (MDI) use to a patient’s baseline and the clinical guidelines, Propeller alerts care teams to people who do not have their disease under control, or who may be worsening and heading to an exacerbation.”

4. Fever Smart, a thermometer that can monitor your child’s temperature remotely

Parents no longer have to worry about waking their kids up in the middle of the night to check their temperature thanks to Fever Smart, a smart patch thermometer that allows for continuous and remote tracking of a child’s axillary temperature.

Wirelessly using their smartphone, parents can download the Fever Smart app on iPhone or Android and check the status of a fever while their child is sleeping or on the go.

The “Brian Unit,” which is a small electronic device that can easily be affixed to the patient via a disposable patch, is responsible for transmitting real-time data through a nano-bluetooth chip. This information is sent to the “Relay Unit,” which serves as an intermediary between Fever Smart’s servers and the parent’s smartphone, as it passes along the temperature data it receives from the “Brain Unit.” The “Relay Unit” can be a number of devices, such iPad, iPod touch or smartphone, as long as it sits in the same room as the child and has Wi-Fi. This noninvasive system allows for constant monitoring of a patient’s temperature, and parents can opt to receive alerts as it rises or possibly reaches unsafe levels. The app will store important data sets in order to track trends over time.

Photo courtesy of Fever Smart

Photo courtesy of Fever Smart

One of the first children’s products to be fully integrated with iOS 8 and Apple’s Healthkit platform, Fever Smart is cloud connected, allowing for parents to have access to the data from anywhere using the cloud. They may share this information with their child’s pediatrician, and doctors can use the information to create customized healthcare solutions if necessary.

5. CareMonster, an app that coordinates caregiving and visiting schedules

The CareMonster app allows all patients’ loved ones and friends to have a coordinated scheduling, organizing visits and activities in a shared calendar that way visitation maintains a constant flow, rather than spurts here and there.

Using the app, visitors can report the patient’s condition and share the update with all members of the group. CareMonster’s goal is to relieve the stress and guilt of caregivers, while providing engagement and reducing loneliness in patients. Currently available for iPhone and Android, the app celebrates milestones, and in addition to its shared calendar and visit reporting features, also contains a guestbook for patients to review entries and notes.

Facilities also have the option of creating a “branded” version of the App that will include a profile page with valuable information about the facility, such as contact information and other unique content.

Photo courtesy of Care Monster

Photo courtesy of Care Monster

Future versions of the app are to include embedded social sharing, an integrated calendar, HCAP improver, family survey tool, a facility messaging portal, date and event notifications, reminders, and customized reporting messages. While the app currently focuses on the patient and ensuring their needs are met, CareMonster also hopes to provide more for the caregiver. For example, a new affiliate marketing model of the app with integrate “offers” for friends to help out busy caregivers, such as grocery shopping, massages, or other fun activities.

Health care companies will have access to a dataset through advanced tracking, analytics and alert systems, that they hope to use in decreasing readmissions and ensuring care plan adherence.

Nicole Yang

Nicole Yang

    Nicole Yang is an editorial intern at MedTech Boston. She is currently a rising senior at Amherst College, where she studies Neuroscience. During the academic year, Nicole is the Managing Editor of The Amherst Student and has also worked as a Chemistry laboratory teaching assistant. Outside of the classroom, she enjoys playing squash and practicing yoga. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Yang12.

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