Pioneering wearable stress monitoring devices for Emergency Workers

Delia: I’d like to introduce Craig D’Souze, co-founder of Ion Systems. Craig, welcome to Wikihospitals.

Craig D’Souze

Craig D’Souza: Hi Delia, how are you? Good to be here.

Delia: I’m very well. And pleased to have you on this show. Now Craig, you’re a serial entrepreneur, you’ve been involved with quite a number of companies. Just to start off with, can you give me an overview of your work history?

Craig D’Souze: Yeah, it’s been pretty diverse to date, quite multi-disciplinary. I guess from an early stage of following my completion of high school, I did an environmental science degree. I think out of interest for learning more about science.

I had a dual interest in working the indoor and the outdoor science, and I thought environmental science would give me a bit of both, and it did. There are a couple of different streams that I migrated towards.

One was a semi technical stream, which involved occupational health and safety auditing, as well as environmental various other consulting initiatives.

The other was a more generic area, looking at more business development and strategy and sales and marketing. I guess more came out of the necessity to hedge my bets.

Science was a bit of a dead end and I also had a bit of a flair for business so I thought I’d do both and here I am I guess.

Delia: Given that you’re a serial entrepreneur, can you give us an indication of your type of personality? People are also interested in what sort of person goes on to become an entrepreneur and create exciting things.

Craig D’Souza: I guess it just comes with a curious mind. I’ve always had an interest in intellectual property and commercialising new products as an interesting kind of journey where you get to work on a new product and then take it from start to finish.

It’s sort of like a life cycle and an evolution of company, so it was just a natural sort of flow really.

Delia: When we spoke before about your first exposure to the health industry, you mentioned that you had a little nephew, he was unwell. Can you just give an overview of that experience and how that impacted on you?

A family experience with the health system

Craig D’Souza: Look, it was quite an emotional turbulent time. It was when he was at a quite a young age of about five, six months, he got diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer, and unfortunately led to an amputation of two fingers and a thumb.

He went through the drama of going through chemotherapy and it certainly put a lot of emotional stress on the family, but also obviously for the little kind, who probably quite young but I’m sure still remembers a lot of what he went through, a very traumatic experience for him, for a long duration.

We were there pretty much every day or a couple of times a week for five or six months.

Delia: When somebody in your family is unwell, they’re in hospital for a while, you’d come in on a regular basis and then you get to really see how things operate.

That leads on to the next question, which is what does your product actually do?

Ion safety systems

“We’re in a research and development trial for building a physical stress monitoring device, so it’s a non invasive way of measuring human fatigue…”

A non invasive way of measuring human fatigue

Craig D’Souza: We’re in a research and development trial for building a physical stress monitoring device, so it’s a non invasive way of measuring human fatigue and there’s various human biometric techniques and indicators that allow us to do that.

Yeah, we’re calling it a fatigue monitoring device. It’s a wearable device and it fits within the uniform of an operator and it’s connected up. It has a bunch of sensors that connects to various pieces, all within the apparatus of the fire operator and it’s very much wearable, it’s portable, lightweight, pretty much like carrying around a mobile phone under their suit.

Delia: Can you explain what are the details that this device is able to pick up?

Craig D’Souza: Sure. It measures a few different things.

Able to measure heart rate, temperature, movement and activity duration

The main pretext behind this is heart rate variability, and there’s been some really well published scientific research around heart rate variability being a key indicator for measuring fatigue. What we’ve done is we’ve put together some sensors that capture heart rate, core and ambient temperature, movement and activity duration. And we’re looking at building on some more features.

But they’re the main sensors that are required to capture data. And following on from this, the research has shown and proven a model with a bunch of complex formulas that basically allow you to calculate various sort of heart rate variability and to give you an indication of how fatigued someone is.

Anthony Walker

I’d like the mention the other members of the Ion Safety Team, Chief Science Officer, Anthony Walker. Anthony is an occupational physiologist, who specialises in the management and safety of first responders who work in extreme environments. Anthony has over 12 years of occupational experience, with a professional urban fire brigade.

The other person is a Chief Technology Officer, Aaron Sempf. Aaron is a science grad who’s passionate about technology and innovation, within a custom platform environment.

Delia: So you don’t just have the smart sensor the person’s wearing, you also have the platform that the data goes to?

Craig D’Souza: The idea is that we would provide our customers with both the hardware and software, and through a dashboard they’d be able to visualise how fatigued their people are on the ground. So it’s measuring fatigue in real time.

Aaron Sempf

Delia: Many people working in the health industry are doing shift work, from ambulance officers who can do 14 hours at a stretch, to doctors who can do up to a month without a break. Nurses doing late earliest continuously.

A lot of people working on the ground floor are suffering from fatigue and are very stressed. We probably don’t do our job as well as we could as a result.

This sort of product could potentially help lift our game and make our staff healthier, and therefore, enable them to give a better service.

Craig D’Souza: Yeah, I think so. I think it’s about empowering teams to measure so that things can be managed. There’s a saying, “Stuck in my mind.” You can’t manage what you can’t measure.

I think anything that’s able to collect a little bit more data and provide empowerment to teams so that they know that they’ve got the best people on the ground, working on the decks.

It’s doing what the sports industry is doing for their players and I guess it’s bringing it to the health and safety industry.

The first time someone has tried to monitor Doctors and nurses stress levels

Delia: We’re all familiar with athletes being tracked and monitored all the time but nobody thought to do this with doctors and nurses.

Craig D’Souza: Or fire offices or business drivers or train operators. I’m not aware of anyone in high risk environments who has that level of tracking. I’m not saying that everyone needs to be tracked and there’s going to be a big brother sort of approach.

Delia: Craig, what is some of your customers’ feedback, even just in the trials? What of the people actually wearing the divide and the companies that you’re working with. What have they actually said to you?

Craig D’Souza: Been some really positive signs that there’s a willingness to actually and to want to measure some of these indicators. In that regard there’s definitely a move towards wanting to be open to trial and testing these new products.

We’re certainly in the very early stages of gathering this feedback because we’re still refining our systems and our processes and coming out with more advanced versions of the product. We’re continually building new features into it.

So in terms of miniaturising the components, making it smaller, more portable, lightweight, but there’s really been some early indications that it’s been well accepted. It’s really going to be about what outcomes it’s going to deliver, what changes is it going to bring about. It’s great to have all the data in the world but is it actually going to improve things?

Is it actually going to reduce fatigue? Is it going to give you different dynamic to your workforce of the future?

These are some of the questions that hopefully it will encourage people to think about.

Delia: Well it will certainly make people look at shift work and I think all the emergency services have that as a compulsory element.

It’s very common for people working in the health industry to get into a car and drive home, through a red light. We all laugh and joke about it. And we all take this for granted as part of the job.

Realistically, if you bring in this kind of clarity of data and you can actually show at what level people are becoming stressed then things will have to change.

Craig D’Souza: At the end of the day it’s about improving the outcomes for the entire community.

Delia: I can see great potential for this. And in terms of patients, regarding your little nephew, people who have chemotherapy are at high risk of developing something called neutropenia, which is just a really nasty infection, because their immune system is so fragile and they can become very unwell very quickly.

We are not very good at picking that up, so you could, for example, give patients who’ve had chemotherapy one of these devices and send them home.

And then you’ll know straight away if something’s going wrong and get them back in, quickly.

Internet of things is the technology for the future

Craig D’Souza: This kind of technology, I mean the world really is your oyster in terms of how quickly things are moving and what can actually be done. It really is a big market out there.

Delia: We welcome new technology in the health industry. We welcome more accurate data. We welcome ways of learning how to do things better. We know we have problems and we are really happy to welcome in solutions.

Craig D’Souza: We want to global.

We want to manufacture our products in Victoria, or in Australia and we want to build skills and build talent in this area. Luke and myself came up with this idea and it’s basically a case of coming up with a way of how to sort of scale it up.

We’d like to grow a customer base and build it to a level that it can be used, if not in one industry, well across a number of different industries.

Delia: Your product sounds excellent, both for the staff on the ground floor but also for the patients.

Delia: Trust me, Craig, we welcome people like you into the health industry. We really love to learn about new technology and how we can do things better.

Craig D’Souza: It absolutely would. I’d like to see it that way.

Delia: Thank you very much for your time, Craig.

Craig D’Souza: Yeah, thank you as well. Appreciate it.