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New Zealand to Lead on More Health Technologies Innovations Amid COVID-19

A health-tech company based in Callaghan, New Zealand, has launched a Health-Tech Activator (HTA) to support commercialisation in the country’s health-tech sector, which generated an estimated $2.85 billion in revenue last financial year, with many health-tech companies experiencing record growth since COVID-19 struck.

Health-tech has significant economic potential for New Zealand, with companies valued at $20 billion in June 2020 demonstrating what is possible in the market. In 2019, exports accounted for 87.5% of total NZ health-tech revenue, and the sector employs 4,296 people.

More innovations are being deployed in New Zealand to address this growth in health tech. In New Zealand, the world’s largest clinical trial of EEG neurofeedback as a therapy for chronic pain was recently launched. Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts more than three months and affects up to one in every five people worldwide, posing a significant burden on healthcare systems and economies.

EEG Neurofeedback is a non-invasive therapy that works by monitoring brain activity and using that data to help the patient’s brain “retrain” how it responds to nerve signals from the body. The trial is being led by researchers from Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and Waitematā District Health Board and is being funded by a New Zealand-based health tech company. It is taking place despite New Zealand’s Covid Alert levels.

In the trial, 116 chronic pain patients will wear a custom-designed system EEG headset developed by the company. The headset passively reads the bio-electrical activity associated with pain in the participant’s brain and wirelessly transmits this data in real-time to a mobile device. Participants perform exercises while wearing the headset (in the form of simple animated games played on a tablet or smartphone). These exercises reward and reinforce positive changes in the electrical activity of the brain.

According to the primary investigator, Associate Head of Research & Senior Lecturer School of Clinical Sciences at AUT, chronic pain is common, complex, and difficult to treat. “It is estimated that one in every five New Zealanders suffers from chronic pain, which can have a significant impact on both physical and psychological well-being. We are increasingly finding evidence that chronic pain is caused by changes in pain pathways in the brain, so the purpose of this trial is to determine whether the headset can target these changes to effectively treat chronic pain.”

“Chronic pain and the associated problems that drug-based therapies bring to this condition, are one of the biggest healthcare issues facing the world today. The very promising results from the trial have given us the confidence to move forward with this much larger trial in New Zealand. It is our hope that the trial will demonstrate the headset as another tool in the toolbox for treating chronic pain.”

Conventional EEG Neurofeedback is complicated and expensive for both the patient and the doctor, requiring attendance at a specialist clinic and the presence of a clinician to interpret the brain activity data, using systems that cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. While existing EEG science serves as the foundation, the company is leveraging miniaturised technology, advanced data analytics, and artificial intelligence to transform EEG Neurofeedback into a cost-effective, mobile system that can be used in a professional clinical setting or at the patient’s home.

OpenGov Asia in an article stated that digital health business and technology transformation appears to be a simple concept – use existing technological innovations to improve people’s health and well-being. The reality, on the other hand, is far more complex and extensive. The term “digital health” refers to a wide range of services, including everything from interconnected patient data systems to digital health records, ingestible sensors, online testing, telehealth services, healthcare apps, IoT wearable gadgets, and electronic records to robotic caregivers.

Some of the common goals and objectives of healthcare sector digitisation may include improved patient record-keeping, faster diagnosis, use of machine learning and AI capabilities, disease prevention, personalised medicine, and all at a reasonable cost that meets budget constraints. Overall, these initiatives benefit both the health organisation and their patients – patients feel more in control of their health, technology lowers operating costs and broadens accessibility, and the healthcare system runs smoothly and efficiently.

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