Irish health entrepreneur

Chartered Physiotherapist Avril Copeland, has developed an award winning technology which assists patients in their rehabilitation and recovery.  Maureen Browne reports.

Ms. Avril Copeland
Ms. Avril Copeland

The project, now known as TickerFit, won the 2015 National Healthcare Innovation Award and an award at the British Association of Cardiovascular and Innovation.

Most recently, she and her team were selected on a competitive basis for the UK’s very first preventative health accelerator, Velocity Health.  As part of Velocity Health, the TickerFit team will receive ten months mentorship and funding, along with office space in central London.  TickerFit was selected along with three other companies for Velocity Health, on a programme to tackle the objectives outlined in the NHS’s Five Year Forward View.

The patient’s exercise is passively tracked by the smartphone and also their engagement and completion of the educational tasks is also monitored.

Ms. Copeland, who studied exercise science in the United States, and then went on to graduate as a physiotherapist from RCSI, was working as a staff grade physiotherapist in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, when she had the idea.  She wanted a way to make it easier for patients to understand the process of their recovery and for their clinicians to be able monitor their progress.

She pitched the idea to Enterprise Ireland, which provided her with some initial funding.  Along with her co-founder and technologist Greg Balmer, this funding allowed them to build and trial a prototype of the technology. She then took a two year leave of absence from Beaumont to pursue the project.

“The technology empowers health professionals to prescribe, deliver and monitor personalised care and rehabilitation plans for patients based on their condition. Currently we are focused on primary care, enabling health professionals prescribe personalised exercise plans to at risk patients, and in secondary care, supporting patients who have had a cardiac event or undergone treatment for cancer.  We are also building out the technology to support a greater range of conditions.

“For example in secondary care, there is a standard programme of cardiac rehabilitation for patients following a heart attack or surgery.  Cardiac rehabilitation is a programme of structured exercise and education and is one of the most effective forms of secondary prevention.”

Cardiac rehabilitation is delivered over four phases. Phase I is during the patient’s initial hospital stay.  Phase II is when the patient returns home to recuperate.  This phase lasts approximately 8-12 weeks and this is when the patient is expected to gradually increase their activity levels and read the educational materials.  Phase III is when the patient returns to the hospital three times a week to take part in exercise classes and educational sessions and Phase IV is known as the maintenance phase.  Despite the well documented evidence for cardiac rehabilitation, for various reasons, some patients don’t ever begin, or drop out during phase II.  TickerFit aims to change this by keeping patients engaged from Day 1.

Cardiac rehab professionals can now personalise the cardiac rehabilitation programme by delivering customised programmes direct to the patient’s smartphone.  During phase I, the health professional can add the patient to the TickerFit programme via the web.  From there, the patient will then receive daily educational tasks and exercises to do which have been delivered direct to their smartphone.

The patient’s exercise is passively tracked by the smartphone and also their engagement and completion of the educational tasks is also monitored.  Their progress is then fed back to their health professional.  Along with passive tracking on the phone, TickerFit has also integrated wearable devices such as a blue tooth enabled blood pressure cuff and weighing scale, therefore capturing a more comprehensive view of the patient’s progress during the times they are not with their health professional.  Incorporating TickerFit means patients receive a more personalised plan, therefore increasing the likelihood of engagement and of them returning to complete Phase III at the hospital. TickerFit also supports the patient while they are working independently at home keeping them connected with their healthcare team.

TickerFit have partnered with Microsoft, so all data is hosted on the Microsoft Azure service, making the information secure and accessible to health professionals in real time.

With the goal of bringing TickerFit to the global stage, Ms. Copeland is working to support health professionals and patients at home in Ireland.  TickerFit is currently working with the Department of Health’s, Health Innovation Hub in piloting the technology around Ireland.  For more information, see http://www.TickerFit.com.

This demonstrates the innovation of healthcare professionals in the Irish health services and their ability to identify key service needs from their direct engagement with patients. The key question is how can other innovation, which is no doubt in the system, be fostered and brought to fruition in partnership with technology and enterprise. And where does consideration of this fit in the role of managers?