News and Views

UCC awarded funding for remote health monitoring of pregnant women during COVID-19 pandemic

9 Jun 2020
  • Researchers at UCC’s INFANT Centre share in €1.4m SFI funding
  • Pilot project uses remote technology to reduce face-to-face blood pressure tests during pandemic
  • Scheme aims to reduce risk of healthcare workers and pregnant women contracting COVID-19

Researchers at University College Cork have received funding for a pilot project that aims to reduce the number of hospital check-up visits for pregnant women during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With funding from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), researchers from UCC and INFANT, the Irish Centre for Maternal and Child Health Research, will apply connected technology to enable pregnant women to have their blood pressure monitored remotely.

The project is one of 11 proposals which is to share funding of €1.4m under the SFI-coordinated research and innovation response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as announced today [Tuesday June 9] by Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD.

If a pregnant woman’s blood pressure is too high for too long and left uncontrolled, it can affect the baby’s growth and may be a sign of a potentially life-threatening condition called pre-eclampsia.

In some cases, women with suspected high blood pressure may need to present at the hospital for extra check-ups as well as their routine consultations. This is more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UCC study at Cork University Maternity Hospital will use remote technology to monitor blood pressure in pregnant women in the COVID-19 pandemic, including inpatients and outpatients and COVID-positive and COVID-negative mothers.

The 500 pregnant women who enrol in the project will use an automated device connected to the INFANT Research Centre’s LEANBH platform to measure their blood pressure and relay the results to the clinical team. The mothers can then be alerted if their care needs to change.

The result will mean fewer mothers needing to attend outpatients in Cork University Maternity Hospital in person for blood-pressure monitoring during the COVID-19 pandemic, thereby reducing potential exposure to the virus. It will also allow closer monitoring of blood pressure in pregnancy than is currently possible.

Leanbh can also be used within the Maternity hospital to allow women to take their blood pressure  themselves in a dedicated, isolated room if required, without the need for direct contact between staff and patient. The readings thus taken are directly visible to the clinicians and automatically uploaded in the patient’s record just like they would be for a home reading.

This further limits opportunities for person to person contamination - a further advantage of the software solution developed at UCC.

In addition, the blood-pressure data will facilitate future research, and the project will also see the LEANBH platform integrated into the National Electronic Health Maternity Record, potentially leading to a roll out to all maternity units in Ireland.

The research, which has been awarded €118,877 in SFI funding, is led by Professor Frédéric Adam, Business Information Systems Department, Cork University Business School, and the INFANT Research Centre, and Dr Fergus McCarthy, Consultant Obstetrician and Senior Lecturer, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and the INFANT Research Centre at University College Cork.

Prof Adam said: 

“Connected health solutions offer great opportunities to respond to the challenges that hamper the progress of healthcare systems around the world. The care for many pathologies could be radically changed by using leading-edge yet affordable technology delivered quickly – for instance on a mobile phone – directly to the patient. 

“In the case of this project, the LEANBH platform and mobile application we prototyped in a previous project are ideally suited to achieving not only greater patient and staff safety, but also enhanced monitoring.”

Dr McCarthy said: 

“This is a fantastic opportunity to improve our care for pregnant women by offering them safe, accurate and convenient monitoring of their blood pressure in pregnancy in the comfort of their homes with results monitored by an in-house team of midwives and doctors. 

“There is huge potential to extend this project nationally, and relook at how we offer care to all our pregnant women to ensure they have as safe a pregnancy as possible.”

Prof Anita Maguire, Vice President for Research and Innovation at UCC said:


“Support for this project from SFI is very welcome, providing an ideal opportunity to utilise technology developed by the Infant team for remote monitoring in a particularly important clinical area at this time.”
 

Prof Geraldine Boylan, Director at the INFANT Research Centre & Professor of Neonatal Physiology, said:

"We are delighted to received funding for this important project from SFI under the COVID-19 Rapid Response call which allows INFANT to work closely with the excellent team at Cork University Maternity Hospital. This project demonstrates the value of strong collaboration between Universities and the HSE in addressing urgent clinical needs, which is more important now than ever."

Prof. Helen Whelton, Head of the College of Medicine and Health said:

“Connected health technology platforms are vital for the future of healthcare and patient safety, and we are pleased to support this important research to develop remote technology to help protect and care for pregnant women."

 

The project collaborators are:

  • Prof. Geraldine Boylan, Director of INFANT Research Centre
  • Dr Simon Woodworth, Health Information Systems Research Centre, Cork University Business School, University College Cork.
  • Prof. Liam Marnane, School of Engineering, University College Cork.
  • Dr Gordon Lightbody, School of Engineering, University College Cork.
  • Prof. John Higgins, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Clinical Director, Ireland South Women & Infants Directorate
  • Prof. Richard Greene, Director National Perinatal Epidemiology Centre, Professor of Clinical Obstetrics, University College Cork.
  • Dr Mairead O’Riordan, Consultant Obstetrician and Senior Lecturer, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Cork University Maternity Hospital.
  • Dr Steven McCarthy, Business Information Systems, Cork University Business School, UCC

University College Cork

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