Smart patch will improve patients' sleep

Testing patches at Psychiatric Centre of North Zealand Photo: Magnus Møller.

Testing patches at Psychiatric Centre of North Zealand Photo: Magnus Møller.

A DTU startup has developed a new sensor for monitoring patients in an easier, smarter, and better way, with major potential socio-economic benefits.

When the evening nurse shows up for his shift at general inpatient ward 2221 at Psychiatric Centre of North Zealand, Denmark, he will have a new routine: Seven patients will get an intelligent patch applied to their upper body or arm before going to bed. Inside the patch is a wireless sensor that measures heart rate and activity during the night.

This may have a huge impact: Instead of doing nursing rounds of the private rooms three times a night, the nurse can now do the first two rounds from the office, checking in on the patients remotely via a monitor. For example, a low heart rate may indicate that the patient is sleeping rather than being active in the room. This means that the nurse can avoid waking up the patients, which is very important. The lack of a good night’s sleep often triggers a deterioration in their condition.

Testing of the patches has just begun at the centre, which is part of the Mental Health Services of the Capital Region. The hope is that the patches will reduce the number of nightly nursing rounds and provide an overview of patient conditions. The next step is using the data to monitor the quality of the patients’ sleep to find out if any adjustments need to be made in sleep treatment aimed at improving sleep quality, says Chief Nurse Kim Johansson:

“We see a huge benefit in this project, because it means that we don’t have to enter the patients’ rooms at night. In all the 25 years I’ve worked here, sleep has been an important topic. It’s a big priority for us to improve our patients’ sleep quality. Previously, we could only give a rough estimate as to how long they had slept, but now we can get more precise measurements. And that’s important in terms of medication and treatment in the long run.”

Patients staying at home

Testing at the Psychiatric Centre of North Zealand will run for three months and is just the beginning of the entrepreneurial adventure for medtech startup IMP Scandinavia. Behind the company are three former DTU students who got the idea three years ago. Now they have a Danish patent and are awaiting approval on an international patent. Furthermore, they have received medical approval and a CE marking, proving that the product meets EU requirements for safety, health, and environmental protection.

The first customers are the Foundation for Innovation and Business Promotion (FIERS) in Region Zealand and Nykøbing Falster Hospital, which will run a test programme in three different departments later this year. The entrepreneurs plan to begin selling the patch for treatment of hospital-at-home patients in 2024.

Although the technology was originally developed to reduce or eliminate the number of mandatory nightly nursing rounds in psychiatric wards, it has become evident that there is a need for patient monitoring across the entire healthcare sector. The aim is to help nurses and doctors improve the treatment of patients and citizens in need of supervision. This can free up time for healthcare professionals and increase the patients’ quality of life. But the prospects go even further:

“We’re looking at a future where many patient groups will be sent home for hospital-at-home care. So instead of having the doctor measure their blood pressure, many patients will be doing it themselves and then sending the results to the doctor or hospital. Here, the patient’s condition will be monitored, and it will be assessed whether further treatment is needed. In this way, diseases can be detected early and hospitalization avoided. This can lead to major socio-economic gains,” says Brian Christensen, co-founder of the company.

From innovation course to medtech startup

He works in the office behind K.B. Hallen in Frederiksberg with the other two co-founders, Jeppe Damgaard Leth and Oliver Kjæp Karlsson. The three entrepreneurs met each other at a Business Innovation course on the DTU Ballerup Campus, where students learn to develop technologies to solve some of the challenges in society. When Brian Christensen talked about the challenges in the psychiatric sector, Jeppe Damgaard Leth and Oliver Kjæp Karlsson got in on the idea, and, together, the three of them set about developing a prototype for a smart patch.

On the last day of the course, they pitched the idea in front of a panel of investors with competences in financing, sales, and marketing. They initially thought the project would end there. But investor Peter Beck-Bang saw great prospects in the technology. Shortly after the course ended, he contacted the students and asked if he could be their mentor. It was the beginning of the entrepreneurial dream.

IMP Scandinavia has now received DKK 10 million in grants from private investors, the Danish Growth Fund, Innovation Fund Denmark, and Otto Bruun’s Fund, among others. The entrepreneurs have participated in several accelerator programmes such as the Danish Tech Challenge, which is a competition for high-tech startups focusing on IT hardware. They have also been part of the Copenhagen Health Innovation partnership, which aims to create a better healthcare system for the benefit of patients. And during that time, the entrepreneurial grew.

“We quickly realized that we needed someone who could run our company and take care of the business aspect of it. Today, our team consists of students, investors, and co-owners. As engineers, we’re trained to develop, refine, and scale production. We use these skills every day to make our products better and better,” says Jeppe Damgaard Leth.

Only requires two electrical outlets

The entrepreneurs develop the software for the patch—which currently measures activity and heart rate—themselves. The readings are transmitted via wireless beacons, which are little radio transmitters, to a laptop or tablet. From here you can follow the development over time. The sensor holds enough power for approx. 24 hours, is sustainable, and can be removed from the patch and recycled.

40 patients have now used the patch. The first version was fully developed and tested at Psychiatric Centre Sct. Hans in 2020. The patch is currently being sold and tested at OK-Fonden’s nursing home Bavne Ager in Gilleleje. Here, the staff use the smart patch to minimize disturbances of elderly people who would normally need frequent check-ups. Concurrently with the test projects, the entrepreneurs are developing a version 2.0 of the monitoring patch. The new version will measure both heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen levels, temperature, respiratory rate, and activity level.

“We’re seeing a large market for monitoring, and right now we don’t experience any direct competition. There are companies that work with the same needs as us, but no one is developing the same solution. Plus, we’re making it smarter and easier. Instead of developing a technology that uses Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, which requires a password and internet connection, we have developed a solution that only requires two sockets—one for the charger and one for beacons. This means that anyone can use our product,” says Brian Christensen.

We are getting older

The vision is to scale up production in Denmark. Initially, the entrepreneurs will expand the use of the technology in hospitals, the psychiatric sector, elderly care, and hospital-at-home care. The next step is the health sector in the Nordic region and Germany, says Jeppe Damgaard Leth:

“At DTU, we learn that you have to find a need and develop a solution for that instead of coming up with a solution first and then finding a need for it. We saw a need and found a solution to some of the challenges we as a society will face in the future where people get increasingly older. Our dream is to develop a product that can make a big difference for many people.”

For almost two centuries DTU, Technical University of Denmark, has been dedicated to fulfilling the vision of H.C. Ørsted—the father of electromagnetism—who founded the university in 1829 to develop and create value using the natural sciences and the technical sciences to benefit society. DTU is a ...

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