News, News in Brief

News in brief: portable virtual radiotherapy system in Tayside, digital tech for COPD, research for speech recognition tech, and more

Here, we take a look at some of the news on digital and data that has caught our eye over the last few weeks.

Portable virtual radiotherapy system benefits cancer patients at the Tayside Cancer Centre

A portable Virtual Environment Radiotherapy Training system is being used at Tayside Cancer Centre to allow users to see “three-dimensional movements of the virtual machine and patient couch, radiotherapy plans and doses, patient organs, CT and MRI images, and treatments in a safe and controlled learning environment”.

The sessions offer patients the chance to benefit from “a realistic understanding of the radiotherapy treatment room” along with preparations that they are asked to make prior to their appointment. The system has also helped develop student packages for radiotherapy and medical students, “allowing them to develop their skills away from the clinical pressures and nurture a unique learning environment”.

Damian Parr, head of therapeutic radiography, comments that the system “has been well received by patients who really welcome being able to visualise the treatment and increase understanding about what is happening in their care.”

Kettering General Hospital launches text communications for outpatient appointments 

Kettering General Hospital announced in December that adult patients waiting for an outpatient appointment may receive a text message to check whether they still need to be seen.

Text messages will usually include a link to further details, which will require patients to provide a PIN number from the message, along with their date of birth and their response to whether the outpatient appointment is still needed.

Depending on the specialty, patients will receive one of three text message templates asking them to take action to confirm their appointment status. They will be able to log in to the portal using a smartphone, tablet, or PC.

NICE recommends two digital technologies for COPD

NICE’s medical technologies advisory committee has recommended two digital technologies for COPD patients: myCOPD and SPACE for COPD, digital platforms which deliver pulmonary rehabilitation through exercise and education programmes for COPD patients, helping them to manage their own condition “in a place and time of their choosing”.

A consultation has begun on the recommendations, and in the meantime, NICE is recommending that the digital platforms be used by the NHS “whilst further evidence is generated to address evidence gaps”. NICE also notes that “there are no safety concerns when delivering pulmonary rehabilitation programmes via the digital technologies”, and that the technologies can be used once they have appropriate regulatory approval and have met NHS England’s Digital Technology Assessment Criteria.

Mark Chapman, interim director of the Health Technologies Programme at NICE, said: “There is a huge unmet need for access to pulmonary rehabilitation programmes by people with COPD. Our committee hopes by recommending two digital technologies which provide these programmes they could help people living in areas without access to an in-person service to receive the vital care they need.”

Glasgow researchers use speech data to aid development of new tech for speech recognition

Researchers from the University of Glasgow are exploring the physical process that creates the sounds of speech by studying muscle movements of volunteers as they speak, with the aim of supporting the development of new applications for voice recognition technologies.

The team have used two different radar technologies – impulse radio ultra wideband and frequency modulated continuous wave – to track the movements of facial skin, tongue, and larynx in 20 volunteers, with vibrations also recorded to measure the deformations of their mouths as they made different sounds. Data was then validated using signal processing and machine learning, which the university says has resulted in a “uniquely detailed picture of the physical mechanisms which allow people to form sounds”.

Data from 400 minutes worth of analysis is being shared by the researchers to help others develop new technologies based on speech recognition, with the hopes that it might be possible to help those suffering from speech impairments or voice loss, by using sensors to read their lips and facial movements, then providing them with a synthesised voice.

Other suggested uses for this type of technology include enabling silent speech recognition, and improving security for things like banking by enabling the reading of users’ unique facial movements.