ARM role in working towards paperless NHS
ARM FutureTech specialist Gary Atkinson believes the company, working with relevant partners, can help deliver the vision of a paperless NHS.
Life sciences Minister George Freeman is just one of many high profile government figures who has recently expressed the view that patients and cash-strapped administrators would benefit from turning the dream into reality.
That is exactly what Atkinson, colleagues and partners in ARM’s globally-encompassing ecosystem intend to work towards achieving. ARM has already begun working with the NHS to prepare a realistic and deliverable roadmap to a healthier world.
Masses of data – ultra secure, stored in the cloud and able to be rapidly accessed by medics – is achievable leveraging the Internet of Things, Atkinson says. And he is passionate to see a personalised medicines element running down the spine of a revolutionised diagnostic era, where disease can be accurately diagnosed and treated based on an individual’s DNA.
Inaccurate or late diagnosis or inappropriate treatment triggered by a lack of precision in determining the illness can cost lives, he points out.
Healthcare, wearables and agriculture – improving everything from soil treatment to the way crops are propagated more productively – are the two main planks of Atkinson’s brief to “identify emerging technologies – that is technology that is not being used today.”
Because identifying future technologies is such a broad brief, Atkinson is retaining a focus on those he believes can be delivered most quickly and to the broadest benefit of humanity worldwide. In targeting agriculture, healthcare and wearables his group is arguably spanning the greatest number of people in emerging and developed countries that it is possible to encompass through relatively few innovation initiatives.
Then that is the nature of the Internet of Things, where billions of sensors will provide unprecedented connectivity to create smart environments from the field to the metropolis to the home and to the hospital or operating theatre.
The medical benefits of growing more healthy crops is obvious. And many of ARM’s ideas for advancing wearable devices have implications for better healthcare management. Reducing energy consumption is inherent in the technologies Atkinson believes can enhance those segments.
A core mantra, says Atkinson, “is to significantly reduce our consumption of raw materials – producing more food using less space, for example; improving water usage efficiency; enhancing the treatment of illness and monitoring of healthcare. And all at low cost.
“There is multiple ARM IP in my smartphone and smart watch but maybe in future I will have a bracelet or ring measuring various statistics, perhaps ECG or other data – all securely held in my mobile. In agriculture ARM-powered sensors could measure soil quality and drive drip irrigation; reduce the amount of fertilisers being used and much more.
“Putting technology into fabrics starts to bleed into printed electronics. We are not far away from being able to print diagnostic circuitry that could be sewn into fabric for all kinds of health or performance monitoring benefits.
“There are companies in the US making running shorts and training tops that have circuitry in them and they come with a little clip-on pod. Unclip the pod and you can throw the kit in the washing machine and tumble dryer – but you still have to detach that pod. Using paper batteries or energy harvesting techniques and that technology could be built into the fabric. The heat from your skin could act as a thermal generator, heat up your skin, turn on the monitoring device and power it up – then feed all the relevant data into your smartphone. One could expand this application for professional athletes or even enthusiastic amateur sports people, feeding the technology into other areas.
“You might be fitted with a knee brace after surgery and your physio tells you to exercise. You sit in front of the TV – 1,2,3,4 lifts and you say ‘that’ll do.”
“Put some simple technology in that knee brace that feeds data from your exercising regime back to your physio and they will make sure you don’t stint again. This is all achievable with low power radios, paper batteries and sub-threshold microcontrollers. As innovations start to converge you bring the cost of delivery down dramatically across a number of tech areas, bringing down the cost of a device from $100 to $10 to $1 and you start to see deployment in tens of millions.
“In this kind of medical monitoring – and across healthcare generally – you get all the data points at the end and it goes into the cloud.”
As well as working with the NHS on emerging innovation, Atkinson’s group is also talking to relevant OEMs and harnessing the brainpower and tech talents of suitable corporate partners in its wonderful ecosystem.
“Identifying and developing emerging technologies has to be all about partnership. We have to be able to engage right up the value chain. We can initiate putting a concept in place to prove it is a viable option to solve a certain problem or improve a current solution but from there you have to be able to leap from a demo to a full commercial service – and that is where we need partners who can build the required apps and provide the cloud services, for example.”
Atkinson talks to a lot of startups to assess innovation that could scale into gamechanging future technologies. ARM has injected seed capital into certain players, including Cambridge duo SimPrints and PragmatIC Printing.
SimPrints, also backed by the Gates Foundation, has leveraged research at the University of Cambridge and developed a unique biometric system customised for the developing world.
High accuracy healthcare monitoring is ensured through two-finger identification and optimised matching algorithms. Its scanners can connect wirelessly to any Bluetooth 2.0 compatible phone and SimPrints’ custom on-board template extraction algorithm makes data transfer fast and secure.
PragmatIC Printing has developed a unique platform of patented technologies to design and manufacture flexible integrated circuits (flexICs), also known as ‘printed logic’. These flexICs deliver intelligent electronics without the need for rigid, bulky and expensive silicon chips.
ARM co-founder and CTO Mike Muller gave an insightful presentation on the power of printed electronics at the company’s recent TechCon event in California.
In the process of scaling up promising technologies, ARM will identify relevant partners and get them to inject their expertise and product development experience to close the circle. “Our partners are always keen to help, recognising the opportunities to expand their own technology portfolios,” says Atkinson.
“Our starting point in scouting emerging technologies is three-fold: The technology needs to be disruptive; have the potential to scale globally; and to be impactful. In healthcare, we don’t seek to back evolution of technology per se – we want to revolutionise or add something new that transforms healthcare.”
Atkinson says ARM is not out to make GPs redundant – or replace humans with robots in revolutionising healthcare – rather to optimise the convergence of man and machine.
“Healthcare as it is now is not sustainable because it is so labour intensive. You have to hire people; you have to be a procurer. A lot of healthcare could be better handled by machines who can access more data than any human.
“You and I could both go to the doctor presenting the same symptoms even though we have different diseases. Yet we have different genetic make-ups. Using the right data – ECG, blood pressure, heart rate and other key data – PLUS your DNA a GP can make the right diagnosis.
“Or it might be a machine fed with all your data that assesses the most likely outcome, reading the stats and sending you a message that it has booked you in to see a specialist on a certain date. It is the lack of personalisation in the current diagnostic process that has to change.
“Machines and systems can have access to data of millions of other people who have had a similar problem to a patient and produce a much more accurate outcome based on this stored knowledge, enhanced by personalised genetic information. I look Caucasian but I might have African DNA – you can’t tell just by looking at me. People can get their genetic makeup analysed accurately fairly cheaply these days.
“And the information we can gather and score through new technology can drill down to specifics regarding your diet and lifestyle. You cannot use a broad brush and say that because someone smokes or eats bacon they will die. They could have these habits and be in no danger of dying – but smoking or eating bacon might trigger other health problems.”
Atkinson’s team has begun a dialogue with geneticists to see how emerging technology might accelerate the delivery of personalised medicines. ARM – in healthcare, wearables, agriculture and energy efficiency segments – is catalysing real change which its partners are keen to help deliver. Together they promise to make a world of difference.
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Dan Storisteanu with Julia Kraus of SimPrints