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A multi-million euro grant marks the start of a unique e-health partnership

10 February 2017

It's been a while since I announced the big news, but now it's official: UMC Utrecht has been awarded a unique multi-million euro e-health grant along with four other top academic hospitals in Europe! We couldn't be more excited. I have more grant news to share with you, but I'll save that for the end of this post. First, let me take you back in time...

It was December 2015 when Professor Cor Kalkman from the University Medical Center Utrecht (UMC Utrecht), who also happens to be my supervisor, heard about a unique European grant opportunity. Getting the EU to hand over a few million euros has always been hard, but this time the chances of success seemed slightly higher.

I was immediately interested; all the more so when I found out the topic was e-health innovation in empowering patients, which happened to coincide perfectly with my PhD research!

Let’s do this…

On the first Monday morning of the new year, Cor called Christian Jagersma, the EU Grant Officer of the UMC Utrecht, to ask if he could discuss the grant with him as soon as possible. Later that day, we explained to Christian the research issue we wanted to present to the EU. Fortunately, he agreed that this was the perfect topic for a grant proposal! But there was one problem: UMC Utrecht couldn't submit the grant proposal alone - it had to form a consortium with organizations from at least two other EU Member States. 'With the deadline just five weeks away, it was a race against the clock'

With the final deadline just five weeks away, it was a race against the clock. Unfazed, Cor called on colleagues in Leuven, London, and Stockholm. Lucky for us, they were more than happy to help.

Time is ticking

With a little over three weeks to go, the tension was rising. Even more so when we discovered this wasn't an ordinary funding request; instead, the grant was reserved for purchasing new technology. I know what you're thinking: Purchasing? Doctors don't do purchasing. That's exactly why we involved Paul Schrijnemakers, head of purchasing at UMC Utrecht, in our European tender. 'The proposal was submitted three minutes before the deadline!'

The only thing left to do was to get all of our consortium partners on the same page before the deadline expired. But bringing all of these international partners together in one place in time to meet the deadline was all but impossible. FaceTime is great, but nothing compares to a personal, face-to-face meeting. That same Sunday we all met at Schiphol Airport to strengthen our proposal. In the two weeks that followed, we worked night and day to draft the proposal and comply with the many complicated European regulations. Fortunately, FocusCura gave me the time I needed to focus entirely on the proposal.

We submitted the 125-page proposal just three minutes before the deadline! I had no idea what the outcome would be, but I did know that I learned a lot in a short amount of time. And I have Professor Kalkman to thank for it.

The start of a unique e-health partnership!

Last summer, we found out that we'd been awarded the 5.3 million euro grant! This marked the start of a unique e-health partnership with UMC Utrecht and four top-level European academic hospitals: University College London Hospitals, Academic Hospital Leuven, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen, and the Karolinksa University Hospital Stockholm. We called our unique partnership 'Nightingale' after the visionary founder of modern nursing: Florence Nightingale.

What was the grant for?

'Ultimately, we hope to improve quality of life for patients after a hospital admission'. We plan to challenge the European industry to develop technology that allows for continuous and wireless monitoring of vital signs in high-risk patients, both in the hospital and at home. This is truly unique! The solution we envision has to incorporate more than just wireless vital sign monitoring.

It has to be a smart monitoring and communication system that allows patients to communicate with health-care providers and that uses intelligent algorithms to identify and respond to deterioration in real-time. Concretely, we're looking for a smart system that combines data from various sensors (such as heart rate and respiratory frequency measurements), that uses contextual data from patients ("I haven't been feeling well for a few hours"), and that facilitates communication between health-care providers and patients and makes it possible to interpret the patient's situation remotely. Ultimately, we hope to improve - or at the very least retain - quality of life for patients after a hospital admission. Patients can experience worrying symptoms for hours without anyone noticing, resulting in unnecessary suffering for patients and their immediate family. We hope our solution will prevent this as much as possible.

Call to European industry leaders!

We started this four-year project last November and we're currently busy exploring possibilities on the European market. We hereby invite industry leaders to join us in developing a smart monitoring solution, with the help of the EU grant, that seamlessly meets the needs of patients and practitioners. We'll throw in the knowledge and expertise of our consortium partners for free! We will enter into talks with interested companies on March 31 (Brussels) and April 6 (Munich). For more information, visit www.nightingale-h2020.eu

The Nightingale Team (FLTR): Laurens van Wijck (Legal Support, UMC Utrecht), Gerben Bekema (Procurement Lead, UMC Utrecht), Dr. Robert Deisz (Intensivist/Anesthesiologist, Uniklinik Aachen), Dr. David Konrad (Head of Department of Anesthesia, Surgical Services and Intensive Care, Karolinska University Hospital Stockholm), John Welch (Consultant Nurse, University College London Hospitals), Prof. Cor Kalkman (Anesthesiologist, UMC Utrecht), Prof. Frank Rademakers (Chief Medical Technology and Innovation Officer, University Hospital Leuven), Paul Schrijnemakers (Head of Procurement, UMC Utrecht), Martine Breteler (PhD candidate, UMC Utrecht), Wilma de Jong (Financial Controller, UMC Utrecht), Karianne Lindenhovius (Innovation Manager, UMC Utrecht))

To top it all off, I have more exciting grant news...

To what extent can wearables detect a decline in health in post-operative patients? I was awarded a grant by the Citrienfonds foundation for my project 'Wireless Vitals'! Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport, Edith Schippers, has earmarked funds for the Dutch Federation of University Medical Centers (NFU), an umbrella organization for all university medical centers. These funds are meant to accelerate various e-health initiatives and partnerships between university medical centers. As part of this project, I plan to carry out a detailed validation study to determine the extent to which wearables can detect deterioration in health in post-operative patients through the wireless monitoring of vital signs.

Do these developments make you curious as well? If so, read my upcoming blog posts to stay up to date on both projects!