Digital health
Residential and nursing homes have been at the forefront of the surge in coronavirus cases, with over half of deaths in Ireland related to these settings, and more than 30 per cent of the clusters in the country. The focus has turned to curbing the spread of the virus here, protecting the health and lives of those in residential care.

Digital therapeutics platform Zendra Health has taken up the challenges.

Founded by twin brothers Thomas and David Coleman, the company focuses on providing clinicians with a way to rapidly roll out medical grade digital therapeutics – the use of mobile technology to augment and enhance traditional healthcare therapies. When the extent of the coronavirus infection became apparent, they turned their attention to developing a solution to help.

“Nursing home staff are the new front line,” said Thomas. “They’re like our heroes, protecting the most vulnerable in society. They deserve the best tools and supports available to them. That’s what we use our technology for.”

The idea came about from a conversation with their sister Orla, who is director of nursing at St Luke’s Nursing Home in Cork, and was looking for a way to help staff manage and triage Covid-19 cases and maintain wellbeing. “They’re under overwhelming pressure as they try to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 within nursing homes,” he said. “There’s a multifaceted preventative approach and mitigating approach in terms of education, wellbeing, support and self-screening.”

App on trial
The company’s app complements this approach.

“We have this excellent technology that we could use to rapidly facilitate their needs, so we built a solution that helps nursing staff,” he said. That app includes a smart self-screening element, checking things such as temperature, and gives back feedback and advice on what to do next. It also provides a one-stop shop for the nursing homes on educational resources and information on wellbeing for staff.

The app is currently being trialled in St Luke’s care home, with plans to roll it out to other care homes.

That type of tool does raise questions about data and how it is used, but Thomas said the app is configurable according to each home’s needs. That means the data could be collected anonymously if needed, and regardless, the nursing homes retain control of the data.

Although Thomas says nursing homes have been slightly behind in terms of the technology and supports available to them, they now have the chance to leap ahead. He expects to see further innovation in the months and years ahead, when coronavirus – hopefully – has faded into the background.

It’s not just about treating Covid-19 patients though. Practical solutions for non-Covid-19 patients are also required during the ongoing pandemic. Recent trends indicate that fewer patients are presenting at hospitals with non-coronavirus related illnesses – not just emergency cases, but fewer cancer patients and other more common illnesses are presenting to health services since this began.

That could have a significant impact on the health system in the not too distant future, when non-urgent cases suddenly become more pressing, with a potentially poorer outcome for those patients.

There are also thousands of patients with chronic illnesses in Ireland that have seen some disruption to their healthcare. Health Beacon is one company that has seen the opportunity to help avoid further repercussions down the line. The company, which is headquartered in Dublin but has offices in Boston and Montreal, supplies its services in 13 countries around the world. “We started out as a company that was involved with medication adherence, trying to keep people on time and on track with their medication,” said Kieran Daly.

Aimed at those who rely on injectable drugs, the company has developed a Covid-19 specific offering that includes a smart sharps bin and delivery of the required medication directly to your home.

The idea of a smart sharps bin – it takes a photo every time you throw an item into the bin, using the act of disposal as a proxy for consumption – may seem like technology for tech’s sake, but there is logic to it. It gives health providers insight into who may need additional support in sticking to their medicine schedule.

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