This article is from the upcoming Research and Innovation Newsletter which will be published in late February

Professor Jim Briggs (together with Dr Wendy Powell in the School of Creative Technologies) has recently won funding from Innovate UK for a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with a company, Xim Ltd, based in Southampton.

A KTP is a collaborative project that allows the fruits of university research to be applied to meet a company’s strategic needs, such as the development of innovative products or services. Small companies only contribute a third of the total project costs.

What do you hope to achieve as a result of securing the funding?

We are going to help Xim develop an early warning score that will enable patients to be monitored at home in a similar way to how they are monitored in hospital.

The Centre for Healthcare Modelling and Informatics (CHMI) has helped colleagues from Portsmouth Hospitals to develop and evaluate a score (the “National Early Warning Score”, NEWS) for hospital use. This was a consequence of a previous KTP to help develop the Vitalpac system, which is used in many hospitals to collect vital signs data (e.g. pulse, temperature, blood pressure) at the patient’s bedside.

NEWS converts a patient’s vital signs into a simple integer score that tells nurses and doctors how sick the patient is. It’s used in the majority of UK hospitals to prioritise patients for attention by staff.

Xim has developed a system for measuring vital signs using simple cameras. This will enable some of the same monitoring to be performed on patients once they’ve been sent home. This should enable patients to be sent home sooner. However, the home monitor won’t collect exactly the same data as in hospital, so we need to devise and calibrate a separate scoring system.

What does it mean to you to get the funding?

To do research and innovation successfully on anything but a small scale needs resources, usually in the form of research manpower. The funding will enable us to employ a top-quality graduate with computer programming and data analysis skills to undertake the development work in conjunction with Xim’s team.

What is the potential impact of the partnership likely to be?

Xim is a small company and is not currently capable of carrying out major research and development projects on their own. The Knowledge Transfer Partnership will provide them with the human and other resources to do so, supported by the academic team from CHMI.

The immediate benefit to Xim will be the development of a new service that they can sell to healthcare organisations. The project will also enable them to develop new services more quickly in the future. For the University, we will develop a new line of research and collect data that can be used to make further research advances.

What problems do you envisage encountering? How are you anticipating that these might be overcome?

Every KTP has its challenges but we’re used to overcoming them.

The current state of the art in vital sign-based early warning systems is based on data collected in a hospital ward. That environment provides obvious advantages in the quality of data collected, since it is done by trained professionals (i.e. nurses), using specialist equipment (mobile devices running software designed for their needs) and to clinical standards. We need to advance the art so that the same data can be gathered by non-professionals, in a wide variety of domestic or other environments, but with an adequate standard of quality. In this context, quality is largely the accuracy of the data collected, but also the timeliness of its collection.

What (social/economic) benefits are you hoping the partnership will bring about?

In 2012-13, there were more than one million emergency readmissions to hospital within 30 days of discharge, costing the NHS an estimated ¬£2.4 billion. The system we are developing will enable hospitals, GPs and ultimately family members to monitor a patient’s condition at home. From this, they will be able to gain early warning of significant health deterioration. At the public health level, the project promises to reduce emergency re-admissions, which in turn will reduce waiting times for other patients and improve outcomes for all.

Moreover, this technology will reduce health service costs. Patients who can be monitored at home can be released from hospital sooner (thereby freeing beds), and patients who become ill at home can be given appropriate treatment before their condition exacerbates to a critical level. This technology will have real potential to save lives and improve outcomes for patients and their families.

How is the experience likely to benefit your research & innovation profile/for your career and for the University?

We are continuously seeking to expand the range and scope of work conducted in CHMI. We are acknowledged as one of the best-known health informatics research groups in the UK, and our reputation overseas is growing.

Our previous work on early warning scores has been focused on patients in hospital, but the future of healthcare lies outside hospitals and this is an example of a technology being developed to support that. This work makes an important contribution to being able to support a patient as safely when they return home as they are when in hospital.

What opportunities for further research and innovation activity might come out of this partnership?

KTPs often spawn other KTPs as other companies hear about the work that we do and want to do something similar. This is the fourth KTP that I’ve been involved in. They are always exciting when you are able to achieve things that actually make people’s lives better.