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New Zealand: Digital Twins Advancing ICU Care

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Researchers at Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | the University of Canterbury, Professor Geoff Chase and Dr Lui Holder-Pearson are developing advanced digital technology designed to save lives, reduce time, and cut costs in intensive care units (ICUs). Their innovative research focuses on two of the most complex and expensive components of ICU care: ventilation and sedation.

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By leveraging digital twins integrated with a digital cockpit, the researchers can utilise a patient’s unique information – such as the precise amount of sedative required and the specific pressure and airflow needed for optimal lung function – to personalise and enhance patient care. This level of customisation and improvement is not achievable with current technologies.

The core of this technology is the digital twin—a virtual model of the patient that replicates their physiological state in real-time. This digital twin, combined with the digital cockpit, integrates and processes vast amounts of patient-specific data. This data-driven approach allows for precise monitoring and adjustments, providing healthcare professionals with actionable insights critical for decision-making in high-stakes ICU environments.

Using this data to optimise mechanical ventilation is crucial for both saving lives and minimising costs. “The sooner you can get a patient off a ventilator, the better their chances of survival,” explained Professor Geoff. He further highlights the financial impact, noting that each day a patient remains on a ventilator doubles ICU costs.

One critical aspect of ventilation is lung stiffness; the stiffer the lung, the less responsive it is to pressure. Applying more pressure can aid in the recovery of unhealthy lung areas but may harm healthy regions. Professor Geoff and his team have developed advanced models to assess this delicate balance. These models evaluate every breath per minute, predicting the optimal pressure, volume, or oxygen needed to increase lung volume without causing damage. This continuous, real-time analysis is made possible by the integration of the digital cockpit with patient-specific data.

The digital cockpit’s integration with real-time data analysis significantly enhances patient care. It continuously processes patient-specific data, providing healthcare professionals with real-time insights. These insights are critical for making timely adjustments to ventilation and sedation, ensuring that each patient receives the most effective and personalised care possible.

In New Zealand ICUs, a current staff-to-patient ratio of approximately 6:1 is required to provide the necessary 24/7 care. In comparison, the ratios are 2:1 in Hungary and 5:1 in Belgium, driven by rising costs and increasing demand for care. Digital technologies can bridge this gap by enhancing productivity and supporting the roles of nurses and doctors. By reducing the need for constant manual adjustments and monitoring, these technologies allow healthcare professionals to focus more on patient care.

The research aims to address the outdated integration of hardware and software in medical devices, heralding a new era of high-value, software-based medical devices and services. This cutting-edge technology from the University of Canterbury not only promises substantial benefits for New Zealand but also has the potential to revolutionise global healthcare systems, offering more efficient, effective, and personalised patient care.

This technology’s scalability means that it can be adapted for use in various healthcare settings globally, making it a versatile tool for improving ICU care. By providing a more detailed and real-time picture of a patient’s condition, this innovation significantly enhances the precision and effectiveness of ICU treatments. Ultimately, this leads to better patient outcomes and more efficient use of healthcare resources, benefiting both patients and healthcare providers worldwide.

The advanced digital technology being developed by researchers at the University of Canterbury represents a significant leap forward in ICU care. Through the integration of digital twins and a digital cockpit, this technology offers unprecedented levels of customisation, monitoring, and adjustment, paving the way for more efficient, effective, and personalised patient care in ICUs around the world.


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