Health care is a national priority in Norway. The government nurtures the development of medical innovation nationwide by encouraging collaboration between medical researchers, industry, and health care personnel. Thanks to such cooperation, Norway's health-related industry can provide internationally competitive, high-quality health care products to a growing global market.
Norwegian companies offer a variety of solutions designed to improve treatment and make life better for both patients and their care providers. Top-of-the-line Norwegian products include technical and communication aids from Falck and Picomed, rehabilitation equipment from Nordisk Terapi and Follo Industrier, patient lifting aids from M¯ller Vital and GSI, patient data systems from Infodoc and DIPS, and much, much more. Turnkey projects are in demand as well. The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health, for example, is planning a project that will involve delivery of 2,000 turnkey health centres, modelled after the much-admired Scandinavian health care system but adapted to local conditions. The coveted project will include treatment concepts, equipment delivery, building contracting, financing, and supervision of the centres during their initial operating phase.
A Helping Hand
Low-cost wheelchairs, cushions that prevent bedsores, back rehabilitation equipment, a hand-washing solution for surgeons - all are among the innovations developed by Norwegian health care companies working with the National Centre for Innovation and Business Development in Health Care (InnoMed). Established in 1998 and operated by SINTEF Unimed, non-profit InnoMed is the hub of a network linking Norway's health-related industry and health care personnel. InnoMed's role is to promote product innovation and business development designed to improve the national health care system. There is no shortage of good ideas; the challenge lies in converting them into viable products. InnoMed has found that when health care personnel and businesses sit down together and talk about their respective needs, the result is better cooperation and successful products. InnoMed helps companies not only by opening doors to the health care system, but also by functioning as a source of expertise in the actual product development.
An Inside View
Research efforts at the top Norwegian hospitals have yielded some groundbreaking results. The University Hospital in Trondheim, for example, excels in R&D and clinical applications related to medical ultrasound. Medical and technological researchers at SINTEF and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have collaborated with GE Vingmed Ultrasound, a major Norwegian producer of ultrasound diagnostic equipment, to push back the boundaries of ultrasound technology. Ultrasound imaging can now provide a detailed analysis of a seven-week-old, one-centimetre-long foetus, and is also used to diagnose cardiac conditions, examine other internal organs and view blood vessels. Norwegian researchers are now developing 3D images that provide surgeons with a virtual-reality view of the patient's body, allowing pinpoint navigation during minimally invasive vascular, brain, and laparoscopic surgery.
For over a decade, magnetic resonance images have been a useful tool for assessing tumours in the brain and skeleton. Norwegian researchers have been testing the application of advanced MR imaging to detect breast cancer when X-ray mammography is inconclusive. The method allows examination of a tumour's metabolism with no discomfort to the patient, and substantially reduces the potential for misinterpretation.
Curing Skin Cancer
Successful applications resulting from Norwegian research have led to many industrial patents. Researchers at Oslo's Norwegian Radium Hospital, Northern Europe's largest comprehensive cancer centre, have been instrumental in creating the first-ever pharmaceutical cure for skin cancer, known as MetvixÆ. PhotoCure, the company founded to commercialize technologies developed by the hospital, is now awaiting marketing approval for its largely pain-free drug, which has undergone clinical testing at 52 medical centres in 12 European countries. The cream's active compound, when activated by visible red light, destroys the power plants of the cancerous cells. Researchers are now working to apply the same principle to other cancers, employing fibreoptic laser light to trigger the drug internally.
Norwegian Health Informatics has developed an electronic medical knowledge bank for doctors. The company has filled its Electronic Medical Handbook with over 2,000 topics, including illustrations, X-rays, detailed pharmaceutical information, videos, forms that can be filled out and scored on-screen, and printable information hand-outs for educating patients.
On the Air: Telemedicine
Since the bulk of specialized knowledge and experience tends to gravitate to densely populated areas, settlement patterns in a mountainous country like Norway can make it difficult to bring patients and doctors together quickly and efficiently. To overcome these obstacles, health care personnel are taking advantage of, and contributing to, the field of telemedicine. Norway has become a world leader in the application of telemedicine, which combines two of the world's fastest growing industries - ICT and health care.
In Norway, telemedicine is typically a long-distance consultation and diagnosis between a specialist at one location and a patient and doctor at a local medical facility, using two-way audio-visual communications. Such high-tech telecommunications solutions have proven to be an efficient method of transmitting knowledge and skills from specialists to general practitioners in Norway's outlying districts, thus ensuring that patients throughout the country receive more equal care. Telemedicine is also cost-effective, reducing the need for costly travel, and is being used more and more for training and advising health care personnel, as well as patients.
Norway's national centre for telemedicine is the Department of Telemedicine at the University Hospital in Troms¯. Besides conducting R&D, testing and evaluation of the latest ICT in the nation's health care system, the centre also exports its expertise and services. For several years, it has been collaborating with Russia to develop telemedicine solutions for the 1.5 million inhabitants of its northwest region. This valuable experience has led to increased enquiries from many countries, especially developing nations, for cooperation, consultancy and teaching.
Some of the centre's current and planned activities include: implementing telemedicine in remote parts of Scotland and Scandinavia; Internet-based nursing courses for Latin America; WHO-sponsored telemedicine projects in Kazakhstan, Lithuania and Moldova; and setting up telemedicine solutions in Nepal, Botswana, South Africa and Sri Lanka. The borderless nature of telemedicine makes it an ideal forum for international cooperation and exchange. Working with WHO, the centre has become an international school for telemedicine training.
A Personal Touch
Home care is another important application area for telemedicine. InnoMed is currently heading an EU research project called TelemediCare to develop safe medical home monitoring for patients. Reducing the number of patient-nights in hospitals not only saves the health care system valuable resources, it also improves the quality of life for patients and their families. Small, advanced sensors on the patient's body supply high-quality, reliable, real-time medical data 24 hours a day on parameters such as oxygen saturation, ECG data, temperature, blood pressure, respiratory rate and pulse. These digital monitoring systems will use wireless connections based on microsensors and BluetoothÆ technology to send data to the patient's computer. Intelligent software in the PC will trigger medical supervision, treatment or care by establishing two-way communication over the Internet with remote, "arrive-on-call" treatment/care providers.
Throughout the developed world, the rapid proportional growth of the elderly population is causing health authorities to overhaul their nursing home systems. In one recent project with InnoMed, the Norwegian construction company Selvaag designed and constructed innovative apartment buildings for the elderly which are experienced more as private residences than institutions. The company now has an entire range of designs for assisted living complexes, based on the degree of care the residents need. Selvaag is partnering with SINTEF Unimed to facilitate the export of its residential concepts and building know-how, and is currently building ten new nursing homes in Ireland. Eastern Europe is also considered an especially promising market for such facilities in the near future.
Care for the elderly is becoming an ever-greater focus of health care systems, with an emphasis on providing maximal comfort and dignity. Norwegians are now establishing hospital hotels for patients who need to be closely monitored and near a hospital, but are stable enough to stay with relatives out of hospital. And progress in advanced home care will soon change the very nature of hospitals. Advancements in medical industrial technology will increasingly enable countries to better their medical services. Through communication, innovation and technology, care for those who need it is growing better and more personalized.
By Darren McKellep
Help on Wheels
Addressing the needs of wheelchair users is one area in which Norwegian manufacturers excel, offering a full range of high-quality wheelchairs. From simple to exclusive, all are carefully designed for comfort, practicality and durability. And since wheelchair access is often limited, Norwegian companies such as Sunnfjord and Totenprodukter design and produce a variety of permanent and portable access ramps that perform well, even in icy conditions. Another company, Pluss service, makes versatile systems for lifting wheelchairs into different types of private vehicles.
Profit is not always the motive for manufacturing wheelchairs. Norwegian wheelchair maker Alu Rehab teamed up with SINTEF Unimed, which has worked with disability issues in Africa for many years. Together they have developed an extremely low-cost, sturdy wheelchair with no welds. User-evaluated in Namibia and Zimbabwe for ease of use, the aluminium wheelchair can be assembled locally with simple hand tools.
For 5 to 11-year-old children with disabilities, Norwegian wheelchair specialist HandiCare produces an electric-powered vehicle that is so stable, it allows these kids to take part in games and venture onto challenging terrain. The easy-to-drive vehicle is practical enough for everyday use as well.