UNB Fredericton researchers want to use AI to keep seniors out of hospitals

Researchers at the University of New Brunswick are working on technology that can track and analyze changes in a senior’s health to reduce the chances of hospitalization.

The data-gathering and analysis project is called Proactive Integrated Technology-Enabled Patient-Centric Healthcare (PITCH). The product is an app with data collection, sharing and analytical capabilities.

“The idea is, how can we more proactively help monitor the health of seniors so that we can intervene before things happen, before they have to go to emergency?” said Erik Scheme, an associate professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering who is leading the project.

The research is being done in partnership with VeroSource Solutions Inc., a Fredericton-based digital healthcare company.

The university, the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and the national research non-profit Mitacs are funding the research. A pilot project using part of the platform was funded by the provincial Healthy Seniors Pilot Project. 

For that pilot project, VeroSource developed an app called Wellness Check that personal support workers used while visiting seniors, allowing them to receive a check up from home.

A digital mockup of an app on two phone screens. One screen shows a schedule of appointments.
The Wellness Check app that support workers used during the pilot project was designed with simplicity in mind, so that anybody can use it. (Submitted by VeroSource Solutions Inc.)

The app provides a digital alternative to traditional pen and paper tracking of health information. 

Data from the app was then securely transferred to the UNB researchers, who used it to continue developing the current phase of the project.

Using artificial intelligence for better health

The team is developing artificial intelligence within the platform that can detect or predict health issues by analyzing someone’s health information over an extended period of time. 

Scheme explains it like this: If he showed up and told someone they weighed 200 pounds and their blood pressure was 130 over 60, that person might think that sounds okay. 

But if the person – or the platform – knows how their weight and blood pressure have changed from week to week, from month to month, over multiple years, they could use that information to know whether those numbers mean their health is fine, or in decline. 

Fall foliage is in the foreground, with two red brick campus buildings in the background
Scheme said the idea of patient-centered care has is a large research focus at UNB. (University of New Brunswick)

“The ability to track things over time more granularly will improve our ability to recognize … negative changes and intervene before they become really bad,” Scheme said, referring to both the ability of the computer and people developing it. 

The vision is that the platform could then alert others to its findings. 

“Let’s say my mother was in the program,” Scheme said. “I could set my portal to give me an alert that says when a particular value is above or below something, or when the algorithm thinks that something negative might be occurring.” 

Helping seniors and families 

One of the biggest benefits of the project, according to Mark McAllister, VeroSource’s CEO, is allowing families to be more aware of their loved one’s health. 

“If you have elderly parents, you can be part of that circle of care,” McAllister said. “And we can use digital tools to really help you do that. It’ll take pressure off of you and it will also improve the lives of your parents.” 

McAllister said people are already managing their own healthcare individually with fitness tracking technology like an Apple Watch or Fitbit. 

A man smiles at the camera in a portrait with a white background. He's wearing a grey suit.
Mark McAllister, CEO of VeroSource Solutions Inc., says there are many ways healthcare could be more efficient using a platform like this is one. (Rob Blanchard/VeroSource Solutions Inc.)

“We’re starting to see that kind of intersection between our public health system and some of these tools,” he said.

Helping people manage their own health care not only benefits them, but it can also take some pressure off the hospital system, McAllister said.

Scheme hopes that the platform can help seniors stay where they want to be.

“We want to support them to live independently,” Scheme said. “So it’s a combination of this technology enabled, but patient-focused kind of research.” 



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