One great cause of discomfort for people who are bedridden is pressure sores, which can easily lead to infections that can spiral out of control in people whose immune systems are already struggling with disease. Nurses normally have to adjust beds every few hours – a process that’s not only awkward for patients, but is a leading cause for 85 % of nurses suffering a back injury at some point during their career. The EU-funded EPOSbed-Demo project has designed an intelligent hospital bed, which comprises a moveable frame and a mattress containing sensors which work to automatically move the bed in response to the patient’s movement. This would enable patients to adjust their position without help from nurses. ‘The target of the project was to help people with disabilities, for example patients recovering after surgery, or elderly people with restricted movement,’ said Manuel Chica Serrano, deputy principal researcher at the European Centre for Soft Computing, Spain, who led the bed’s design. The impression of a body made on the mattress’s 1 000 sensors creates a pressure image. The intelligent software – based on image processing algorithms and artificial neural networks – then analyses this in real-time to decide upon the best movement. The technology is now being patented, with the aim of having a commercial product available by mid-2015. The frame and sensors could be retrofitted into standard hospital beds. ‘The technology could be applied to any sort of motorised beds, even to the air mattresses currently used in hospitals and care homes to relieve bed sores,’ said Oscar Valdemoros Tobia, CEO and project leader based at Industrias Tobia S.A. in Spain.
Making life more comfortable for patients and caregivers 2012 marks the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations (EY2012). The number of Europeans aged 65 to 80 is expected to significantly increase in the upcoming decades, posing enormous challenges and tremendous implications for both the ageing population and primary caregivers. EPOSbed-Demo (Demonstration action for an Easy POSitioning of in-BED patients with reduced mobility) is now poised to bring to the market an intelligent medical bed to assist bedridden patients to reposition themselves without any assistance.
‘We are currently in the commercialisation phase, with the aim to turn this innovative bed into a product with clear future market potential,’ says Oscar Valdemoros Tobia, general manager at Industrias Tobia S.A. (Spaldin). This Spain-based SME coordinated the initial two-year EPOSbed project that successfully developed a lab-scale prototype for the bed at the end of 2010.
The EPOSbed-Demo project, which is set to run until August 2013, consists of four partners from Germany, Portugal and Spain. The consortium is once again being coordinated by Industrias Tobia S.A. Over EUR 300 000 in funding under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) have been allocated towards commercialisation, namely to achieve medical device certification in compliance with EU directives.
Providing safety, comfort and autonomy
The proper in-bed positioning of confined patients can prevent declining health and improve quality of life. For these immobile, bed-bound patients however, lack of autonomy leads to anxiety and discomfort.
The bedridden also take a physical toll on primary caregivers, particularly nurses. Work-related back injuries are attributed to the regular repositioning of patients, resulting in substantial man-days lost as well as skyrocketing costs for hospitals in Europe. According to EPOSbed website figures, nurses are required to reposition patients every two to four hours. It is reported that 85% of nurses suffer a back injury at some point in their career as a result of this manual repositioning. Such injuries account for 15 billion working days lost each year; bringing annual costs to approximately EUR 6 billion for European hospitals.
As the average age of hospital personnel increases, so does the demand for assistive mobility systems that allow nurses to work effectively for more years. In addition, a bed that puts less stress on primary caregivers reduces injuries, thus requiring less staffing by hospital personnel.
According to Mr Valdemoros, the expected project impact is ‘improvement in the quality of life of reduced-mobility patients and those that care for them at hospitals, but especially at home where older carers have serious difficulties in changing the position of their bedridden relatives.’ State-of-the-art bed interface
Patients are able to change position without the use of traditional remote controls or assistance from hospital personnel. The speciality bed is equipped with easy-to-use automatic vertical and lateral positioning that is operated by artificial intelligence software system which responds to changes in body pressure.
The software, thanks to a sensor inserted into the mattress, interprets in real time the patient’s intended position and executes functions accordingly. It responds to any natural movement or pressure applied by the patient in a given direction. This intelligent sensing system then causes the bed to move to the desired position.
EPOSbed™ website figures reveal that revenues in the hospital speciality beds market reached approximately EUR 800 million in Europe in 2005, with an annual growth rate of 9% on account of population ageing. Despite a robust demand for an assistive device that enables improved mobility for patients, Mr Valdemoros claims no other product fills such a gap. He explains the product’s added value and competitive advantage: ‘The existing solutions resolve specific problems dealing with lack of mobility, or cater to a certain type of patient. We are not aware of any bed that deals with reduced mobility and targets patients in a broad and affordable manner, while at the same time taking caregivers into consideration.’
The target markets for the bed are public and private hospitals, residences and private homes. Private hospitals will serve the high-end market, while residences and private homes the low-end. Price is deemed the main factor driving success in these diverse segments. For that reason, Mr Valdemoros emphasises that different versions of the bed will be offered as different products in order to serve various market niches: ‘It offers the flexibility to add or remove certain features depending on the needs of the patient, caregiver, the setting - be it a hospital or a home - and the degree of mobility.’
Mr Valdemoros gives examples of the commercialisation of the complete product, which comprises the bed frame and the intelligent movement detector, or as individual products. The medical bed with lateral positioning can be marketed independently with remote control only (no intelligent movement detector). Furthermore, the intelligent movement detector can be offered as an open product which is able to operate cheaper commercial beds from external suppliers. The functions of the bed frame can also be adapted to different applications.
‘The overall goal of EPOSbed-Demo concerning SMEs is to strengthen their competitive positioning through their strategic placement in more technological sectors which are characterised by substantial R&D investment, and therefore out of the scope of SMEs that lack public aid,’ stresses Mr Valdemoros. Furthermore, results are expected to have a significant impact on the competitiveness of SME participants. ‘This project will hopefully introduce us to a sector beyond our core business, a sector that is controlled by multinationals, but where we believe we can fill an unmet market need.’
The EPOSbed system has been validated in pre-clinical trials, and results were extremely favourable: male and female subjects recognised the system as a natural and attractive way to interface with the bed. Having demonstrated the bed’s viability, the consortium is now seeking certification prior to launching sales. ‘We are still finalising the test to certify the bed as a medical device. It is encouraging to see hospitals and other organisations that rent beds to homes showing an interest in the project,’ concludes Mr Valdemoros.
Ten partners are participating in the EPOSbed™ research project.
The research will be undertaken by the RTDs (QinetiQ and Inspiralia) by a core group of SMEs (Spaldin, LINCIS, FOS, Proteo, Dynamic, Techem, Rioja Salud and Vivisol ), who will provide the initial supply chain. These partners have been specifically brought together to provide the necessary blend of skills and expertise and with the common focused aim of developing an innovative and intelligent-controlled medical bed product .
There is excellent transnationality with seven European countries participating in the project and include Italy (2 companies), Spain (3 companies), UK, Switzerland, Germany, Poland and Portugal with 1 company each.