Researchers of FlandersMake@UAntwerpen develop new device for remote lung examinations

Researchers of FlandersMake@UAntwerpen develop new device for remote lung examinations to help doctors around the world to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Trial in intensive care setting in Antwerp University hospital ongoing

Frequent lung examination is key to monitor Covid-19 patients, and quite challenging for the medical staff. Doctors need to enter the patients’ rooms wearing sterile clothing and they need to change clothes and wash their hands before seeing each next patient. To improve safety and reduce their workload, a team of researchers from Flanders Make @ UAntwerp invented a remote stethoscope system that enables lung examinations without direct contact with patients. Tests are currently being conducted in the Antwerp University Hospital. The system will be offered as an open-source solution to support doctors worldwide.

"To fight this pandemic, it is crucial that research institutions take up their societal role and work together to develop much-needed technological solutions as soon as possible. Flanders Make frees up operational resources of 1 million euros to develop technological solutions, both for our hospitals and for our companies. This brand new system for remote lung examination is a great result of such cooperation and will contribute to safe and efficient lung examinations throughout the world", says Urbain Vandeurzen, Chairman of Flanders Make.

COVID-19 infections often lead to severe acute respiratory syndromes and therefore one of the most frequent examinations are auscultations of lung sounds with a stethoscope. “There are different categories of lung sounds that can be assessed with a stethoscope, which all contribute to a clinical follow-up of the patient's condition. These auscultations are very time-consuming, especially if large numbers of patients have to be examined, as is the case in almost all hospitals during this COVID-19 crisis”, says Dr. Stijn Verhulst from the Antwerp University Hospital.

Digitalised stehoscopes

Direct contact with patients and the use of a stethoscope also entail the risk of contamination and many healthcare workers worldwide have already been infected while treating their patients. And that's exactly where the newly developed system comes to the rescue. It consists of a number of digitalised stethoscopes that can remain on the patients’ bodies and which are all connected to a computer located at a medical staff office. A pilot test with several intensive care beds was launched at the Antwerp University Hospital on 15 April. “The system that has been developed also enables solutions for remote sensing at other locations than intensive care units, for example at residential care centres”, says Rudy Mattheus, board member at the Antwerp University Hospital and chairman of chamber of commerce Voka Health Community, who also sees a direct path towards a medical device in the near future.

“A big advantage of the system is that a team of doctors can listen and work together when evaluating the status of a patient. They can even compare results over a period in time, and judge patients’ progress more objectively and without direct contact with the patients”, says Prof. Jan Steckel, the lead researcher of this project of CoSys-lab, a Flanders Make research team at UAntwerp specialising in sound signal processing. “It is easy to make and consists of widely commercially available low-cost devices such as microphones, small computers and soundcards. People with a background in engineering and computer networks can easily replicate the system and assist hospitals in installing them. The system not only has the potential to help during the current COVID-19 pandemic but also generally increases the diagnostic quality of auscultations and helps patients with respiratory syndromes.”

Open-source solution

“This project builds on many years of expertise in the field of sound processing of our research group at the University of Antwerp and was realised within only a few weeks’ time”, Marc Engels, COO at Flanders Make, explains. “After the successful completion of the tests currently running at the Antwerp University Hospital, we will offer the system as an open-source solution to help doctors all over the world.”

Hilde Crevits, Flemish Minister of Innovation concludes: "Our Flemish researchers and scientists are world-class, which is proven once again during this corona crisis. Not only has Flanders great expertise in developing vaccines or antivirals against COVID-19, our manufacturing industry is also highly innovative. This example of 'remote auscultation' illustrates very well how technology can facilitate and improve patient care. As Minister of Science and Innovation, I can only be very proud of our researchers in their fight against corona".

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