For centuries, hospitals have been functioning in a similar, reactive fashion. When an individual becomes ill either a visit to the hospital is required or a doctor would visit your home and only then would treatment be received. Currently, the Canadian model of health care follows this approach. This model works well, and it does an excellent job treating acute illnesses such as infectious diseases and traumatic injury. In 2015, Statistics Canada found that the growth rate of seniors’ population was approximately four times the rate of the total population. They also stated that, compared to other provinces, New Brunswick had the highest proportion of people aged 65 and over of all Canadian provinces. This increase is not limited only to the aging population of New Brunswick, but various chronic diseases as well, such as diabetes or heart disease. According to the New Brunswick Health Council in June 2016, over 60% of New Brunswickers had at least one chronic disease. This increase in chronic disease is not only an issue in New Brunswick, but is problematic worldwide. Yach et al. identified chronic disease as the largest cause of death in the world, accounting for 29 million deaths worldwide in 2002. In 2017, The World Health Organization confirmed that chronic diseases are the leading global cause of death and that they are responsible for 70% of deaths worldwide. In order to adapt, the current healthcare system needs dynamic change to develop a proactive health care model, capable of managing chronic disease more effectively.
The New Brunswick Health Council stated that as a result of chronic disease being more difficult to treat, an individual with one or two chronic diseases will have double the annual health services cost of a healthy individual, while this cost is quadrupled for individuals with three or more. This places a major financial burden on New Brunswick’s healthcare system, thus, the need for prevention programs is imperative. Building a proactive health care model will allow for better care of chronic disease, as opposed to the traditional reactive model that health care uses today.
The Atlantic Student Research Journal sat down with Dr. Erik Scheme to explore how he plans to implement a proactive health care model by building medical technologies to support this new system.
Health Monitoring Devices & Health Technologies Research
Living in New Brunswick since he was 6 years old, Dr. Scheme is a proud New Brunswicker. He received his undergraduate degree in 2003, his masters degree in 2005, and his PhD in 2013 from the University of New Brunswick. Dr. Scheme is the New Brunswick Innovation and Research Chair in Medical Devices and Technologies, an advisor for the Technology, Management and Entrepreneurship Center (TME), a tenured track Assistant Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University.
As a result of holding numerous positions, Dr. Scheme has a diverse research portfolio, covering two main different fields. The first field is rehabilitation, which consists of prosthetics, functional orthotics, and rehabilitation technologies that are used during the rehabilitation process. This research consists of the development of technology, diagnostics, motor control, and incorporating feedback from the system back to the user. This field is closely related to fellow researchers at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME) and often results in collaboration with UNB Professors such as Drs. Englehart, Sensinger, MacIsaac and Bateman.
The second field of research focuses on New Brunswick’s health care system. Dr. Scheme’s research is dedicated to creating technologies and systems that gather objective data non-invasively. This data would provide the benefit of pro-actively monitoring the health of the user, and supplying their care team with information about the patient’s risk of injury or of developing chronic diseases. For example, Dr. Scheme and his team are currently working on a Smart Cane which gathers information about the user’s mobility, loading and stability while walking. This information will allow their health provider to monitor their gait of the user and detect any abnormalities during their daily activities. Thus, the information can potentially lead to early detection of mobility impairments or injury and provide the opportunity for intervention if needed.
Together, these two fields cover a large variety of projects and offer solutions to many current local and global health care and rehabilitation needs. Dr. Scheme’s research potentially creates numerous short and long-term benefits for New Brunswick's health. This also opens the door for economic development in the digital health, and health and medical technologies sectors. With his background in TME and fulfilling his mandate as chair of medical technologies, Dr. Scheme collaborates with small New Brunswick health medical technology companies to develop competitive advantages such as product improvement, scaling or exporting. Dr. Scheme’s fields of research create promising results that further develop New Brunswick's health care system and economy, and thus builds New Brunswick towards a better tomorrow.
Dr. Scheme’s research enables both the health care system and individuals to collect information about their health and wellness, to consciously improve their way of living, and to minimize their risk of chronic disease. Ultimately, this research can help in the development of a new way of treating disease, and relieve some of the stresses that are currently seen in Canada’s health care system.
Creating Opportunities for Students
The IBME has traditionally been known as a graduate oriented research institute and resides in R.N Scott Hall, up the hill from Head Hall. The IBME, however is working to engage students at all levels. One common difficulty is that undergraduate research assistants in engineering must often complete their third year of engineering before being able to fully engage in the cutting edge research done there. However, Dr. Scheme’s research program on building New Brunswick into a living lab for health care is accessible to all undergraduate engineering students. As a student, you can work with Dr. Scheme and the IBME and be a part of the team that is developing tools to support a proactive healthcare model.
Quote: “What’s fun about health research from an engineering perspective, is that there are a lot of ways you can get involved before you have to do the engineering work”.
To foster this opportunity for students, Dr. Scheme is building a team and the facilities to engage students early on. His new Health Technology Lab in Head Hall (GD-119) serves as an on-site example of this focus. Other pieces of research that Dr. Scheme is involved in includes machine learning and signal processing, and the continuing development and refinement of feedback control systems, motor controls and cutting-edge prosthetics that the IBME is known for. Students who are more interested in rehabilitation research can find various opportunities for involvement by collaborating with Dr. Scheme or his colleagues. Any interested individuals are welcome to email Dr. Scheme at email@example.com to set up a meeting to discuss potential involvement.
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