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Houston researchers receive $3.2 million grant to enhance fetal monitoring technology

Two Houston hospitals — Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine — have received funding from the National Institutes of Health. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Thousands of cases of fetal growth restriction occur annually that can lead to complications at birth. In order to get a better idea of condition and to develop better monitoring technology, the National Institutes of Health has granted $3.2 million to researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital.

The researchers are tasked with developing "an improved way to evaluate umbilical venous blood flow using 3D and Doppler ultrasound techniques" in small fetuses, according to a release from Baylor College of Medicine.

"Our research team will initially validate the accuracy and reproducibility of new 3D volume flow measurements and then develop corresponding reference ranges in normal pregnancies," says Dr. Wesley Lee, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor, in the release.

"Detailed observations of fetal growth, heart function, and circulatory changes will be made in over 1,000 small fetuses with estimated weights below the 10th percentile," Lee continues. "The results will be correlated with pregnancy outcomes to identify prenatal predictors of clinical problems in newborns."

The grant will fund a five-year investigation collaboration between the two Houston hospitals, as well as the University of Michigan, Perinatology Research Branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health, and Human Development and GE Healthcare.

FGR is a condition that affects fetuses that are below the weight normal for their gesticular age — usually in the 10th percentile of weight or less, according to Stanford Children's Health. Underlying issues with placenta or umbilical cord can increase the risks of the condition and causes of FGR can range from blood pressure problems to drug and alcohol use.

Affected fetuses can be at risk of stillbirth or neonatal death. Babies that overcome FGR complications at birth are predisposed to developmental delay and the development of adult diseases such as obesity, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and stroke, according to the release.

According to Dr. Lee, identifying these FGR and at-risk fetuses can benefit their health in infancy as well as throughout their lives.

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Meet MIA — Houston Methodist's new voice technology assistant. Photo via Getty Images

Hey, MIA. Start surgery.

These are the words Houston doctors are learning to say in the operating rooms, thanks to a first-of-its-kind voice technology developed by the Houston Methodist's Center for Innovation in collaboration with Amazon Web Services. In the same way we use programs like Alexa or Siri to make our everyday tasks easier, the Methodist Intelligent Automation, or MIA, is allowing medical professionals to improve the way they interact both with technology and patients alike.

"There's been a push in the industry for a long time that people sitting behind computers and typing and staring at a computer screen is inadequate," says Houston Methodist Chief Innovation Officer Roberta Schwartz. "There's been a desire to return people back to each other rather than physicians and look at a screen and patients look at a doctor looking at a screen."

Currently in its pilot phase, MIA is working to do just that through two key functions that shift the way medical professionals work in what Schwartz calls the "era of electronic medical records."

The first is through operating room voice commands. Here medical professionals can run through a series or checklists and initiate important actions, such as starting timers or reviewing time of anesthesia, through voice instead of by typing or clicking, which can become cumbersome during lengthy and highly detailed surgeries. Information is displayed on a large 80-inch TV in the operating suite and following surgery all of the data captured is imported into the traditional EMR program. The technology has been prototyped in two Houston Methodist O.R. suites so far and the hub aims to trial it in a simulation surgery by the end of the year.

Additionally, the hub is developing ambient listening technology to be used in a clinical setting with the same goal. Houston Methodist and AWS have partnered with Dallas-based Pariveda to create specialized hardware that (after gaining patient permission) will listen into doctor-patient conversations, transcribe the interaction, and draft a note that is then coded and imported directly into the EMR.

"For EMR the feedback is that it's clunky, it's click-heavy, it's very task oriented," says Josh Sol, who leads digital and clinical innovation for Houston Methodist. "Our goal with the Center for Innovation and this technology hub is to really transform that terminology and bring back this collaboration and the patient-physician relationship by removing the computer but still capturing all the pertinent information."

The ambient listening technology is further off and is currently in user acceptance testing with clinicians.

"They've had some great feedback, whether it's changing how the note is created, changing the look and feel of the application itself," Sol adds. "All feedback is good feedback at this point. So we've taken it in, we prioritize the work, and we continue to improve the application."

And the hub doesn't plan to stop there. Schwartz and Sol agree that the next step for this type of medical technology will be patient facing. They envision that in the near future appointment or surgery prep can be done through Alexa push notifications and medication reminders or follow up assessments could be done via voice applications.

"It's all going to be of tremendous value and it's coming," Schwartz says. "We may be taking the first baby steps, but each one of these voice technologies for our patients is out there on the horizon."

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