Jump ARCHES project shows promise for digitized neuro exams

9/14/2022 4:18:48 PM Lauren Laws

Some medical visits have to be done in person. Unfortunately, that's not always easy for some patients. As technology advances and more breakthroughs are made, the ability to do specialist appointments through a screen is quickly becoming a reality.

Minh N. Do
Minh N. Do

A team including UIUC researchers and a OSF HealthCare neuromuscular specialist, with support from a Jump ARCHES grant, are building a platform that will use digitized neurological exam information and artificial intelligence technology to help medical providers detect and evaluate neurological conditions. The goal is to support the triage and care for patients regardless of their location – in a primary or urgent care office, emergency department, neurology clinic, and even at home.

Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Minh Do and Health Care Engineering Systems Center Assistant Director George Heintz were some of the Illinois researchers who worked with Dr. Chris Zallek of OSF HealthCare on the research that was published in August in IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics. It's called a Digital Neurological Examination (DNE). 

Dr. Chris Zallek
Dr. Chris Zallek

Dr. Zallek, lead investigator of the NeuroHealth Lab at Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center in Peoria, Illinois, explained the exam can be done with a smartphone or tablet and currently records four distinct exam movements clinicians might observe to help assess an individual’s coordination, strength, balance, and movement organization. The exam includes the patient rapidly tapping their finger and thumb, rolling their arms around each other, touching the pointer fingers of their hands to each other, and standing up from a chair and walking back and forth. The DNE extracts from the recorded exams the 2D/3D human-body poses and quantifies clinically relevant features. This can help the provider to identify and follow changes in exam findings over time and aid in the diagnosis and care for people experiencing neurological conditions.

“We are excited to work on this project with OSF because of its potential in providing accessible and timely neurological exams," said Do. "Moreover, this project opens new research problems in quantifying and categorizing movement capabilities of patients using common smartphones in diverse settings."

George Heintz
George Heintz

DNE would also compensate for the critical growing shortage of providers who specialize in neurological care. The gap in neurologists in the U.S. is projected to increase to 19% by 2025. Zallek said the current average wait time to see a neurologist is a month, and some patients have to travel long distances for diagnosis and treatment.

“This will hopefully help with the triage of the patients," said Dr. Zallek, lead investigator of the NeuroHealth Lab at Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center in Peoria, Illinois. "We want to see all patients but there are some patients that need to be seen sooner rather than later. If we have tools helping us to say okay, this person, we need to get them in a little more quickly, or at least meet with them via tele neurology, it is an opportunity to improve care.”

The next step is to continue the research recording 100 patients experiencing neurological conditions and demonstrating abnormal exam findings. New care paths will also need to be tested to learn how these digitized tools can best help clinical teams care for patients.