vCare Pilot phase in Italy “Open the curtain” is approved by the expert users focus group

While the vCare Pilot phase in Italy is finally about to begin, Casa Di Cura del Policlinico di Milano has organized an online workshop involving a panel of experts representing four hospitals, all of them recognized as Italian excellence in clinical research and practice.

The main objective was to collect external inputs before the launch of the Pilot phase. The pool of experts have approved the trial design. They however consider that the actual implementation of a rehabilitation@home service is still beyond the immediate horizon.

The four participating hospitals were:

  • IRCCS Ospedale San Raffaele, Department of Neurological Diseases;
  • IRCCS Humanitas Research Hospital, School of Physiotherapy, within the Nursing, Neuropsychiatry and Rehabilitation Sciences Department;
  • IRCCS Fondazione Don Gnocchi, Research and Innovation Department;
  • Instituto Prosperius Tiberino, Neurorehabilitation Department.

 

Here are the most relevant insights which emerged during the workshop:

First, the workgroup undersrood the need to involve the Italian regulatory agency, in order to standardize tele-rehabilitation prescriptions among the refunded programs for healthcare providers. Currently, refund policies of the National Health system still reflect the “traditional” rehabilitation, so reimbursement policies for digital services are shaped on the therapies performed in the ambulatory setting and not yet in the residential setting.

Second, from a scientific perspective, they acknowledged that literature recognizes the positive effects of tele-rehabilitation, pointing out in particular an increased adherence, when therapy is achieved in a game-based setting, They however mentioned that the entire Italian scene still lacks of a clear objective investigation regarding who could be the ideal “end user” who could benefit of services like the ones proposed by vCare. Starting from here, the pilot phase should help to answer a number of key questions such as:

  • Which subjects are more responsive to tele-rehabilitation services ?
  • What is the clinical and social profile of those subjects ?
  • When is the best moment to take them in charge ?
  • Which service configuration is best adapted to the vCare stroke use-case ?

 

Third, there is no clinical protocol evidence regarding the validation of sensors and technological devices able to effectively assess the outcome measures that the vCare project intends to reach. While the need remains for collecting large amounts of data in the next years, through further multicentric RCTs and research projects, already now the vCare pilot phase can provide a first, significant “real life” experience.

Fourth, machine learning and predictive instruments are considered the biggest challenge to support the clinical decision-making process, especially if corroborated by a huge amount of input and output structured data. At the current state of the art, automated therapeutic decisions are not yet integrated in clinical practice, as this is still an experimental stage, but it is a promising perspective.

Finally, the support of a virtual assistant might be more appropriate for supplying information to caregivers, rather than to directly coach the patient.

Don’t worry!!! vCare is following the right direction as pioneers of a new healthcare approach, built on evidence-based pathways and scientific validation. Stay tuned for the beginning of the Pilot phase, as soon as when we’ll know more…

Design and implementation of the vCare Avatar-based Virtual Coach

The vCare patient User Interface (UI) is realized as an Android application running on a tablet device. The UI supports different representation and interaction modalities, including the human-like avatar, the vCare Virtual Coach (VC).

The VC is a ubiquitous part of the UI that assists and guides the patient through their rehabilitation program. The goal of the human-like UI representation is to engage and motivate the patient to adhere to their rehabilitation plan and doctor’s advices in their home environment. The great benefit and advantage, compared to non-avatar-based interfaces, is that they can use human-like interaction styles such as verbal and non-verbal communication expressed by a recognizable human-like Avatar. Therefore, the Avatar conveys information verbally using real-time state of the art Text-To-Speech (TTS) technology along with predefined gestures, motions, and emotion expressions. Conversely, patients can respond and interact with the Avatar verbally via speech input, which is recognized using state of the art speech recognition technology, enabling more natural and human-like communication patterns to create a livelier user experience.

Design Workshop

A design workshop was conducted with technical and clinical project partners. The goal of this workshop was to define different aspects of the VC and the representation by an Avatar, like general characteristics, qualities, faults, and the interaction with patients. For this, two team exercises were performed. The first exercise was to draw/sketch the VC and to define its key character features: age, sex, weight/size, qualities, faults, and the name. The second exercise was to describe a typical day from the VC’s point of view, i.e., how to interact with the patient. The collected data during the creative workshop was qualitatively analysed as follows.

Figure 1: Design workshop Avatar and scenery drawings/sketches

General characteristics of the Virtual Coach

One outcome of the workshop was that the VC should have an age between 30 and 40: the idea is that the VC should show both, to be an expert in the rehabilitation sector and an expert in the digital world. The VC is mainly seen as a female. This aspect is related to caring behaviours and feelings. Furthermore, behind the aspect of the VC, users should recognise both a physician, which is an expert in diseases and rehabilitation programmes and a “gym” trainer, which is an expert in physical activity and healthy behaviours, such as sport or diet. Figure 1 shows Avatar and scenery drawings/sketches produced at the design workshop.

Figure 1: Design workshop Avatar and scenery drawings/sketches

Qualities, faults, and interaction with patients

Other aspects such as the qualities of the VC, its faults and how the interaction with the patients can look like were also discussed in that workshop. Qualities were categorized in relational skills and professionalism, with associated attributes mentioned like patience, friendly, open-smile and punctual, precise or authoritativeness.

Faults were used to better define the VC’s characteristics and to try to balance all the aspects, avoiding the risk of negative perceptions/evaluations by users. The VC shouldn’t seem to be perceived as being too proud, too strict or directive and shouldn’t exhibit bad human characteristics like greed.

With regards to a typical interaction between the VC and the patient, it was found that both “push” and “pull” mechanisms can be implemented, meaning that an interaction can be started by either party. When activities are planned, an interaction should consist of “Before Activities”, “During Activities” and “After Activities”. In “Before Activities”, the VC could send alerts according to the patient’s agenda, to remind the him or her to follow his or her plans. “During Activities”, such as motor exercises, the VC should support the performance of the patient by giving feedback, inciting, giving suggestions etc. “After Activities”, the VC should give positive feedback when activities are completed by the patient, e.g., “Bravo!”, “Well done!”.

The outcomes of the design workshop provided valuable input for the design of the Avatar look and feel. The general characteristics were used as guidelines regarding the age of the Avatar but also for the outfit and general appearance.

Technical realization

The affective Avatar is implemented following AIT’s Avatar Generation Toolchain (AGT). Figure 2 illustrates the overall architecture of the AGT.

Figure 2: Overall Architecture of the AGT.

The AGT consists of six main components (3D modelling, animation, audio processing, rendering, video generation, video delivery) classified in three different processing steps (pre-processing, processing and the optional post-processing). The pre-processing part defines the avatar’s character and appearance as well as the domain and scenario-specific setting including the avatar’s movements. The processing part is responsible for the audio processing and for the run-time animation and rendering. This part is influenced and controlled by internal and external parameters (“controlling parameters”; e.g., the text which has to be spoken, the avatars emotion or motion). The post-processing part is an optional part and just required in situations where a live rendering is either not possible or not applicable (e.g., if the avatar needs to be embedded in existing services or specific Web applications).

In vCare, the avatar component uses the Unity3D game engine for rendering the Avatar in an Android App. The Avatar’s characteristics can be adjusted to the current context to e.g., express emotions by varying facial expressions, varying voice intonations using Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML) and different animations for the Avatar’s body posture and gestures.

Evaluation and validation

The Avatar evaluation and validation will be part of vCare’s outcome measurements at the end of the pilot phase using TAM (Technology Acceptance Model) score, SUS score (System Usability Scale) and Qualitative UEQ (User Experience Questionnaire).

Avatar and UI impressions

Figure 3 shows the current male and female characters, resembling the design workshop’s input like the age or the recognition as a physician based on the outfit. Figure 4 shows the current UI implementation with the Avatar in the top left corner, some navigation elements below in the bottom left area and the main information area on the right side.

 

Figure 3: Male and female VC designs

Figure 4: Screenshot of the UI showing the Avatar in the top left corner and patient observations on the right-hand side.

Evaluating hospitalization & rehabilitatation @home maturity level: Result of the EWAHA Workshop

On 19 October 2021 a workshop organised thanks to the support of the AAL Forum and the European Week of Active and Healthy Ageing, explained why the transition towards hybrid care technologies is a solution to ensure the sustainability of Europe’s health and care systems. Using two hospitalisation@home use cases, it showed how the SCIROCCO Exchange tool can help hospital sites with understanding and applying change management approaches.

 

Background

Change is taking place in the health and care offered to older adults throughout Europe. Shifts are occurring in how people live at home and the services offered to them by their regions’ hospitals. New solutions for older adults include keeping healthy; avoiding getting ill or getting more ill; and – in hospital terms  – reducing over-hospitalisation and avoiding repeat hospital visits.

Hospitalisation@home is just one form of hybrid care. It is, however, an approach that is still in its infancy. In many settings, there is a clear lack of continuity between hospital and home. Nevertheless, digital solutions are helping to smooth this transition through their use of tele-centre support and virtual coaches. To achieve this shift, both individual and organisational changes are needed but they need to be adequately managed.

Change management can be particularly complex in health and care settings, due to the multiplicity of stakeholders involved and their respective agendas. For this reason, it is important to keep abreast of change management approaches, tools, and techniques.

 

Introduction to the tool

The 12 dimensions of the SCIROCCO Exchange tool were introduced by Andrea PAVLICKOVA, International Engagement Manager from the Scottish Government. Presenting this highly participatory and facilitative tool, the talk showed how easy the tool is to use.

Under development for five years since 2016, the tool has enabled over 30 regions or organisations, almost 500 individual people, and more than 1,000 assessments to assess the maturity of their health and care systems, with particular reference to digital technologies. It is already on offer in 10 different languages. Countries outside Europe that have used the tool include Australia and Saudi Arabia.

This was one of the few times that the model has been applied to hospitalisation@home.

Dr. PAVLICKOVA’s mentioned that there is a need to “focus on the bigger picture” (and not on the technologies), and “local context matters”. These messages were as relevant to hospitalisation at home as to other digital health and care settings in the past.

The two currently-running European initiatives that collaborated to explore how SCIROCCO Exchange model/tool could help them mature their work on hospitalisation at home were NWE-Chance and vCare. The session’s focus was on how the tool could be used by hospital managers and their colleagues.

 

The tool in practice

Wendy BRUINS, speaking on behalf of herself and her colleague, Astrid VAN DER VELDE of the Isala Heart Centre in the Netherlands, talked about how they had used the SCIROCCO Exchange tool to assess their system’s maturity. In the NWE-Chance project, through its Chance@Home system, Isala has focused on bringing clinical care to the home by incorporating a wide variety of uses of small and large technologies into the care pathway. The technologies include mobile phones, sensors, weighing scales, mainframes, and data centres. By using SCIROCCO Exchange, on the one hand, Isala has understood that among its strengths are its readiness to change and its process coordination. On the other hand, two of its relative weaknesses include capacity-building and evaluation methods. SCIROCCO Exchange provided the Isala colleagues with a quick-scan overview of their situation: they found it extremely easy to use and that it facilitated their multi-stakeholder discussions.

Looking to the future, they could see that the tool could be used by them to coach others about hospitalisation@home, and enable hospitalisation@home to be exploited further.

Nwe

 

Hospitalisation@home – using a range of technologies

Massimo CAPRINO of CCP in Milano, Italy, introduced the way in which the vCare project had used the SCIROCCO Exchange model to explore the project’s maturity. In contrast to NWE-Chance, vCare applied the model on three different sites in Italy, Romania, and Spain. Together, the sites explored what was happening in terms of hospitalisation@home in three different clinical fields: heart attacks, strokes, and Parkinson’s condition. They got varied teams to use the tools – and included in the exercise cardiologists, neurologists, therapists, physiotherapists, and technicians. They found considerable agreement on their sites about how satisfied the tool users were with eight out of 12 of the SCIROCCO Exchange tool’s maturity dimensions.

In the future, vCare is keen to explore two ways of maturing their work on hospitalisation@home: learning from their own successful and/or satisfied sites, as well as through input from external sources.

vCare

Hospitalisation@home – covering a variety of conditions and pathways

Next steps

Certainly, the speakers from the two hospitals had very positive experiences of the tool, and were keen to use it again. It will also be particularly exciting if several of the more than 20 sites that attended the session will start to use the SCIROCCO Exchange model in the future.

There is, indeed, every possibility that SCIROCCO Exchange tool will be expanded, extended, and exploited further in the future. Both the NWE-Chance and vCare initiatives are keen to enlarge their exploration of the tool, and to interact with others on the work that they do!

 

 

Scirocco ExchangeBL colornwe chance logovcare

vCare featured at the International Conference on Information Systems 2021, Austin Texas

A vCare paper has been approved for the upcoming International Conference on Information Systems which will take place in Austin, Texas, USA on December 12-15, 2021

One of the key exploitable results of vCare is related to the approach followed to design and test systematically derived clinical pathway (graphical) models. Starting from the evidence gained from the clinical partners, vCare has derived distinct requirements for the graphical modelling language.

This is to ensure that all clinical needs (gathering the clinical process information) and the technical needs (pathways in machine-readable form as processual base of the system working mode) are met

Using a Virtual Coach for home rehabilitation requires various technologies (e.g., smart sensors and machine learning) and the involvement of various stakeholders. In this paper submitted, we report about a case study as part of the vCare project on using clinical pathways to set the procedural precept for integrating diverse technologies and stakeholders for home rehabilitation. We contribute to design artifacts and to design knowledge. For design knowledge, we have systemized requirements that help design further modelling languages for modelling clinical pathways, derive further clinical pathways, or integrate further technologies or stakeholders in supervised care. Furthermore, our design artifacts may be used to investigate research ideas of other IS domains such as gamification or anthropomorphism.

TUD (Germany) has been leading this work in the vCare consortium and will be presenting the results at the conference. The paper will also be published in the Conference Proceedings.

Watch here how pathways have been defined in vCare.