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Tackling the issue of medical deserts using telemedicine

DeepSpa Télé-médecine

Being able to make an early diagnosis is essential when it comes to treating cognitive disorders. However, obtaining such a diagnosis can often be difficult for people living in rural areas. The telemedicine tool being developed by a European consortium coordinated by Inria aims to address this situation by facilitating access to healthcare professionals for isolated patients. The new interface will be tested by the end of the summer at the Digne-les-Bains health centre

With doctors’ offices in rural areas continuing to disappear from the map, many regions in Europe are gradually turning into real medical “deserts”. This situation has a particular impact on individuals suffering from cognitive disorders: with their geographic isolation, it is very hard for them to have access to healthcare professionals for a screening, a diagnosis or a follow-up. Although the majority of these elderly people see memory-loss and cognitive impairments as a natural phenomenon of the ageing process; early detection of these disorders could help in slowing them down and prevent many diseases such as Alzheimer. Considering these facts, the aim of the DeepSpa project is to develop a telemedicine tool to help improving the screening, the diagnostic and the follow-up of cognitive disorders in isolated populations. “The solution that we are developing is a web-based user-friendly interface, making it possible for patients to consult specialists in cognitive disorders through video.  Our goal is to approach the face-to-face consultation that one would ordinarily have with his doctor”, explains Rachid Guerchouche, an IT research engineer at Inria Sophia Antipolis and technical coordinator of the DeepSpa project.

A first full-scale study

This telemedicine tool will eliminate distance as a consideration, making it ideal for use in rural areas where elderly people are often forced to travel several hours just to see a specialist. In order to assess how the interface performs in such a context, a beta version will be evaluated by the end of the summer at the health centre of Digne-Les-Bains. A hundred of volunteers with memory complaints will be included in the protocol. The aim for this first full-scale study is to carry out a series of clinical tests adapted to assess the reliability of remote diagnosis, with support from Nice CHU doctors. If the results are satisfactory, this new telemedicine tool will be used to diagnose cognitive disorders, but it will also be possible to adapt it for use in other diseases such as facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, a neuromuscular disorder affecting the face. “Eventually, our solution could be also used in the context of both individual and collective cognitive training sessions and stimulation programmes”, adds Rachid Guerchouche.

The project, which began on 1st January 2019, is coordinated by Inria researchers Alexandra König, for the clinical research aspects, and Rachid Guerchouche, for the digital aspects. The partners of this consortium include Maastricht University, the Claude Pompidou Institute inNice, Janssen Pharmaceutical, the CoBTek laboratory at Nice Sophia Antipolis University and the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI).

Keywords: Early diagnosis Cognitive disorders Screening Medical desert Telemedicine Sophia Antipolis - Méditerranée Inria Stars