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Henry Ford Institute partners with CMU

Credit: Kyung Min Lee/ Credit: Kyung Min Lee/

Carnegie Mellon’s Quality of Life Technology Center (QoLT Center) has now entered into a partnership with the Henry Ford Innovation Institute to improve health care technologies. According to the Henry Ford Innovation Institute’s website, the partnership will “develop new digital health technologies to improve patient care, with an emphasis on the care patients receive after being discharged from hospitals.”

The QoLT Center is a research center funded by the National Science Foundation and jointly run by Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh that focuses on developing technologies to assist the elderly and individuals with disabilities in living more independent lives.

According to their website’s description, “The QoLT Center addresses the needs and activities of everyday living by prototyping personal assistive robots, cognitive and behavioral coaches, human awareness, and driver assistance technologies.”

Mark Coticchia, the Henry Ford Health System’s vice president and chief innovation officer, stated in a press release on the Henry Ford Innovation Institute’s website “this relationship with the Quality of Life Technology Center is a cornerstone of Henry Ford’s digital health strategy, and will provide a new set of talent, resources, and ideas to craft solutions for pressing health care problems.” The release added that the partnership will specifically focus on the use of robotics for health support systems in serving people in their everyday lives and in the conduct of coaching in a rehabilitation setting.

Dan Siewiorek , director of the QoLT Center, was directly involved in the formation of this partnership. Siewiorek said that the partnership came to be after the centers were connected through Coticchia, the former director of technology transfer at Carnegie Mellon.

Siewiorek said the QoLT Center invited the Ford Institute to two summits they were hosting, “and they liked what they saw and joined.”

Siewiorek described that “the initial focus [of this partnership is] on discharging people from the hospital. It’s more difficult than you’d imagine and involves dozens of steps.”

“Often families and patients are given written instructions for continued care at home,” he continued, adding that these instructions are difficult for elderly patients and those who suffer from dementia.

Additionally, hospitals are motivated to have their patients better follow prescribed directions, as Medicare now penalizes them if a patient is readmitted within 30 days with the same medical condition.

Siewiorek summarized the goal as “having people understand what their disease is and how to take care of it,” previewing their solution, saying, “I could easily see a cell phone app where the discharged person is told what meds and exercise they need and provides appropriate reminders and sets goals,” he said.

In a press release, executive director and co-founder of the QoLT Center Jim Osborn said “Henry Ford is one of the nation’s most progressive health systems,” adding, “Their administration and clinicians recognize the imperative and the opportunity to improve health care efficiency and quality through technology. Together we will pioneer solutions that could benefit thousands of people.”

Siewiorek described some of the projects that the QoLT is currently developing in addition to their work with the Henry Ford Innovation Institute, including a product containing forward- and backward-facing cameras which can be used for patients with dementia and memory loss. “If a person with dementia is preparing a meal, the camera is looking and can identify the object,” he said, adding that the technology also monitored so that, “caregivers can videotape interaction and share with any doctor any troubling behaviors.”

The product is in field testing with 10 pairs, and there is a spin-off company also exploring its application in sports.

The QoLT Center has also developed projects originally created as part of senior undergraduate engineering capstone courses. One, called the Health Kiosk, is designed for senior citizens who live in high-rise apartment buildings and have difficulty making routine doctor appointments. Doctors can specify measurements to be collected from the kiosk, such as blood pressure readings, and collect them remotely.

Another project developed from these capstone courses is the Seating Couch, designed for people in power wheelchairs who have suffered spinal cord injuries. Using a smartphone application and chair sensors, it can remind patients to adjust their seating positions at preprogrammed intervals to avoid ulcers, and can suggest adjusting one’s position when the chair is on an incline, or subject to other changes in position.