Researchers develop better treatment methods for kidney disease patients
Researchers from Aalto University are participating in a four-year research project, aimed at exploring patient-centric home dialysis treatments for kidney disease patients. The goal of this initiative is to create an electronic health service that will both streamline patient management and expand treatment choices. The multidisciplinary study, which was launched in September 2022, is sponsored by the Academy of Finland. In addition to Aalto, HUS Helsinki University Hospital, the University of Jyväskylä, and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland are also collaborating on the project.
‘The severe loss of kidney function poses a substantial to the healthcare system,’ says nefrologist Virpi Rauta from HUS, who is the development manager for the project. ‘Although organ transplants and dialysis are the current treatment options, transplants aren't a viable solution for many late-stage patients.’
Most kidney disease patients undergo dialysis at a central care facility, but in Finland, one in four patients receive dialysis treatment at home.
‘Home dialysis not only offers a higher quality of life and improved prognosis for patients, but it's also the most cost-effective treatment. We should significantly increase the utilisation of home dialysis as a treatment option,’ says Rauta.
Dialysis is essential life-supporting treatment, but heavily reliant on various equipment and digital services. Hence, solutions that simplify home dialysis for both patients and healthcare professionals are in high demand.
Usable digital services support both patients and professionals
Assistant Professor Johanna Viitanen’s research group at Aalto University’s Department of Computer Science is focused on human-centred health informatics – how digital health services should be designed to better meet the needs of both patients and professionals. In the new research project, their role is to investigate how the new digital services could support the work of professionals and improve care as well as the experiences of home dialysis patients. Their focus will be on usability, user experience and patient experience.
‘The challenge is to take into account both user groups, professionals and patients, when developing the new service – especially patients have numerous ways and various capabilities of utilising these sorts of services,’ says Viitanen. ‘Usability is no longer just a nice add-on, but a critical factor with bearings on the work-wellbeing and efficiency of healthcare professionals.’
The research group will employ methods of user-centred design, such as interviews with patients and professionals, usability testing and co-design workshops. Their goal is to involve 10 healthcare professionals and 25 patients in the study. The researchers are optimistic that the multidisciplinary approach will inspire innovative solutions to the complex problems.
‘Supporting patient wellbeing and self-management is a complex process. It is not enough to uncover the most effective behavior change techniques, but they need to be delivered in the best way possible. This requires understanding of the context, including patient experiences, patient-provider interactions, and the role of digital health solutions embedded in the treatment pathway,’ say Project Researcher Malin Ekholm and Assistant Professor Keegan Knittle from the University of Jyväskylä.
The project builds upon the work done in a previous study, eCare4Me, where the initial version of the digital health service for home dialysis was developed, with extensive input from patients and professionals. In the spring and summer of 2023, an ethical approval will be applied from HUS, after which the researchers can start the empirical research.
Two Aalto University research groups are members of the ”Better treatment at home – optimised human-centred pre-dialysis and home-dialysis treatment” (BOC) research project: Assistant Professor Johanna Viitanen’s Human-Centred Health Informatics (HCHI) research group from the Department of Computer Science and Professor Paul Lillrank’s Healthcare Engineering, Management and Architecture (HEMA) from the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management.
Text: Anna Aspelund, Paula Valkonen, Johanna Viitanen