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heart of where all the action is” at TMCx, the Texas Medical Center’s accelerator, Lee says. “We’re going to work in the clinical, hospital setting and focus on the ‘smart hospital’ and mobile caregiving,” Lee says.
When the new Foundry opens—planned for sometime in the next couple of months, AT&T says—it will join TMCx and JLabs’ Houston outpost at a former industrial site in southwest Houston. Once a Nabisco cookie factory, the complex is now a main feature of the medical center’s strategy to boost biotech commercialization in Houston. While the city has long been home to important research in the life sciences in the dozens of hospitals and medical schools that make up the medical center, Houston has largely failed to develop a cluster of biotech companies comparable to that in San Diego or Boston.
So, what might the Houston facility look like? In Plano, the health-focused projects at the Foundry include a connected wheelchair developed in conjunction with Permobil, a wheelchair manufacturer. This “IoT-enabled” wheelchair has sensors that track performance, maintenance, and patient comfort. The digitized chair can alert users to potential breakdowns and also warn users if they are sitting in the same position for too long; wheelchair-bound people can get pressure ulcers if body weight is not shifted occasionally. Cellular radio enables family members to keep track of a family member in the chair, and even set up invisible “fences” around it: should the chair cross that fence, an alarm is sent back to the family member.
Another project that the Foundry worked on is a remote patient monitoring system, which is now being sold by Plano health IT company Vivify Medical. Tyler Bagwell, a senior product manager at the Foundry’s IoT mHealth business development division, says the software aims to cut down rates of hospital readmission, especially for people with chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, and diabetes.
“We need to get these patients to have better compliance with their treatment plan, taking medications, once a patient is discharged from the hospital and is back at home in their daily lives,” he says.
The software helps to ensure compliance with doctor’s orders, essentially, Bagwell says. The software is loaded onto a widely commercially available tablet, and patients answer a daily health survey, keeping track of their moods, whether they took their medications, how they slept, and other information. If a patient needs to speak directly with a caregiver, there’s a button for that.
On the other end, caregivers can see the entries and track progress over time, and can intervene if they see behavior that might be detrimental to the patient’s recovery. They also will get alerts of unread messages from patients and can schedule a video call through the tablet.
Project by project, AT&T and its customers are trying to encourage innovative thinking in their organizations, says Khan, the industrial IoT executive. Doing this in large companies—or healthcare centers, for that matter—isn’t easy, he adds. “We’re hoping [the Foundry] is a spur,” he says. “We’re teaching an elephant to dance.”