Developing software to create a technologically advanced cockpit in which a team of doctors can remotely support and advise various intensive care units: that is the goal of the THALEA project. Eight partners from academic institutions and government bodies in Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and Finland will collaborate on this project. THALEA is researching how telemedicine and telemonitoring can be used to treat ICU patients. It is also a pilot project for a new type of tender procedure known as pre-commercial procurement (PCP).
International research has shown that telemedicine and telemonitoring on ICUs can reduce mortality rates, decrease hospitalisation time and improve quality of life in former patients. The THALEA Project aims to follow ICU patients in various hospitals from a central 'cockpit' location. In this cockpit, a team of experts (known as the remote ICU team) will continuously monitor different values, such as blood pressure, insulin levels, dehydration, medication and dozens of other indicators, procedures and guidelines. "As soon as we notice a problem, an employee in the cockpit will be notified via the system to contact the on-duty ICU doctor," explains Daniel Dahms from the University Hospital Aachen. "The ICU doctor will be advised and supported in carrying out the right protocol for that situation."
Several ICUs in major US hospitals have used this central monitoring technique for some time now and the figures are proving how successful this modern approach can be. Before telemonitoring, the average ICU mortality rate was 13.8 percent. This figure dropped to 11.8 percent with the introduction of telemonitoring and targeted interventions. The average length of stay on these ICUs also dropped from 9.8 days to 6.4 days. Remarkably, more patients went home after their ICU stay after telemonitoring, which means they enjoyed a higher average quality of life than patients who were not able to return home after receiving more tradition treatment.
PCP: An innovative European tender process
"Developing the software needed to effectively run the ICU cockpit is now possible thanks to an innovative European tender process known as pre-commercial procurement, or PCP," explains Robert Deisz, vice coordinator of the project at the University Hospital Aachen. "This method is being applied for the first time in Germany and for the second time in the Netherlands."
A total of 1.8 million euros has been reserved for this project, which includes grants from the EU and contributions from participating partners. This innovative tender process, which involves extensive research on the actual procurement expected in the future, consists of three phases: preparing the public tender, a pre-commercial procurement phase, and a public European tender that should ultimately lead to the marketability of concrete software products. The preparatory phase was finalised in November 2013 and the pre-commercial phase was recently launched. This PCP phase will start with an open dialogue between the eight THALEA partners and potential software suppliers. "This PCP is a unique way to challenge entrepreneurs to develop new products and services for hospitals. PCP is extremely relevant to buyers looking for a solution to their problem," Dr Deisz explains.
Nowhere is this more applicable than in the software development phase. This phase gives businesses, consortiums and knowledge institutes the opportunity to conduct R&D and come up with a concrete solution. All of the details are contractually negotiated through risk-benefit sharing. Both the requesting party (the university medical centres and government institutions) and the suppliers are expected to make a financial commitment, therefore sharing all associated risks and opportunities.
The pre-commercial phase does not fall within the realm of traditional public tenders, but will be both open and transparent, with due respect for equal treatment and the principles of good governance. "During the PCP, the university medical centres will first hold an open dialogue with potential suppliers to discuss how the software should be developed," Dr Deisz explains. "The EU has agreed to support this pre-commercial public tender because it stimulates companies to become actively involved in the innovation chain." The PCP phase will also include the development of prototypes and test series. This phase should give clients and suppliers a good idea of the possibilities and limitations of this project. The PCP phase will be followed by a public tender that should trigger the commercial rollout of the IC cockpit software phase.
The 8 THALEA partners:
1. University Hospital Aachen (coordination) (Germany)
2. German Ministry of Innovation, Science and Research (Germany)
3. Maastricht University Medical Centre+ (Netherlands)
4. NL, Agency, Ministry of Economic Affairs (Netherlands)
5. ParcTauli Sabadell University Hospital (Spain)
6. Catalan Agency for Health Information, Assessment and Quality (Spain)
7. Hospital East Limburg (Belgium)
8. Northern Ostrobothnia Hospital District (Finland)