Partnership taps technology for healthier Alberta

(Edmonton) A new partnership between the University of Alberta and Telus that aims to advance consumer health-care technologies will help Albertans tap into their health data and lead healthier lives.

Telus, the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine and the Health Sciences Council at the U of A today announced the launch of the Consumer Health Technology Living Laboratory Community, a research platform geared toward developing and commercializing innovative health technologies. Telus has committed $1.3 million over three years to the initiative, along with in-kind technology and staff support.

“This is an important collaboration between the University of Alberta and Telus that will significantly advance the development of new technologies in the community so people—particularly seniors—can remain independent and healthy,” said Martin Ferguson-Pell, dean of rehabilitation medicine.

The Living Laboratory Community will promote research into consumer technologies that allow patients to monitor their health and let them decide who can remotely access their medical information.

One such technology is Telus’s health space, an ehealth service that uses Microsoft’s HealthVault, enabling patients to collect, store and analyze their health information anytime, from any location.

“Alberta is at the forefront of health-care transformation,” said Telus president and CEO Darren Entwistle, “and we are continuing to build on that momentum by working with the University of Alberta to establish this national centre of excellence for consumer health technology, which will further showcase Alberta’s leadership in health-care innovation.”

Health space allows users to upload details like their current weight or any medications they are taking, and then decide who can have access to the information—be it physicians, family members or other care providers. That kind of patient- and family-centred access is not possible with current clinically based electronic medical records, said Ferguson-Pell. With modifications, the technology will make it possible for a family member to monitor a loved one’s sudden weight gain or other health status indicators.

The remote capabilities mean health information can be accessed and updated by a patient, family member or health-care provider whether they live in the same city or across the globe. That’s an important advantage for the health-care system, especially for remote areas, said Ferguson-Pell.

“Particularly when you’re talking about rural communities, these technologies offer potentially a substantial resource savings.”

Ferguson-Pell said the partnership advances a Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine demonstration project called “Smart Condo” that used technology to simulate home conditions and explore how sensor systems can be used to monitor patient health. The concept was extended to the Living Laboratory Community to embrace the complexity of real-life situations involving patients, families and caregivers in the community.

Last year, the U of A, Telus and TR Labs successfully tested health space in a small blood-glucose trial at a primary care network in Sherwood Park. They’ll look to build upon the scope of this technology by expanding to sites in Camrose and Calgary, Ferguson-Pell said.

He added that the U of A and Telus are committed to collaborating with other companies, taking advantage of emerging technologies and partners to find solutions that benefit all Albertans. The work could be used to face emerging health-care challenges such as the aging population and the increased demands on the system.

“Alberta can be a national and international leader in this area and at the same time address a major societal pressure the entire developing world is facing. The stakes are high and that’s why it’s such an important project.”