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MedTech

Contactless tech deployed in restaurant chains amid pandemic

Mounir Jamil

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As we continue adapting to the pandemic, we notice that our needs as consumers are rapidly changing. Not so long ago, standing in-line at a packed fast food chain, waiting to get served, was considered to be the norm in dining experiences; we can evidently see how this scenario can’t be applied in the time of COVID-19. 

Enter contactless tech – a solution that has proven itself to be a fundamental necessity amid the pandemic. Technology teams from several restaurant chains have been trying to implement contactless tech to streamline visits, enhance the customer journey, and ultimately make their employees life easier. 

Various types of contactless tech ranging from QR codes to robots have aided restaurant chains. We break down the top contactless tech ideas that were brought forward by technology chief attendees of Restaurants Rise powered by MUFSO in a panel titled Touchless Tech: How chains are reimagining technology with the use of contactless ordering and the resurgence of QR codes. The panel was sponsored by Ziosk. 

The comeback of QR codes

QR codes which have already been around for a decade or so, started making their way back into the limelight before the pandemic hit, proving their value as a practical type of contactless tech. QR codes have become an integral part for Tocaya Organica, a 16-unit “experiential fast-casual” chain serving Mexican food in California and Arizona that’s part of The Madera Group.

The technology allows guests to point their smartphones at the codes placed on tables, pull up the restaurant menu and order. Each table has a custom QR code, allowing servers to know where to bring the orders once they’re ready. 

Justin Keenen, Tocaya Organica’s Director of Information Technology commented that the team “had to make sure that that experience carried over as much as possible,” as the restaurant chain moved away from traditional counter service to placing an order at the table using QR codes.

Guests can point their phones at the codes on each table, pull up the restaurant’s menu and order. Each table has its own QR code, so servers know where to bring the orders when they’re ready, and Keenen hired the tech company Thanx to build access to the chain’s loyalty program on top of the Olo ordering software, allowing guests to accrue and redeem points from their phone.       

Keenen added that about 80% of the users surveyed provided “overwhelmingly positive feedback,” with the contactless tech being very easy to use.

Geo-tagged pickup

Popular El Pollo Loco, the fast-casual grilled chicken chain with 480 locations has now enabled geo-tagged curbside pickup at 95% of all its locations according to Andrew Rebhun, the chain’s Vice President and Digital Officer.

With curbside pickup being planned for 2021, once the pandemic hit, those plans were expedited. Rebhun and the team worked to launch the service via the El Pollo Loco app this summer, starting with 20 restaurants and quickly scaling up. 

It’s also a contactless tech that is fairly easy to use. Customers opt into GPS tracking, which will then alert the restaurant as they are driving up, allowing the team members to bring their order directly out to the car. 

Guests that don’t want to opt in for GPS, can simply click the “I’m here” button and a crew member will be out with a face mask to deliver the order. 

Vice President of Technology at White Castle (fast food chain with 360 locations) Susan Carroll-Boser told Restaurants Rise attendees that they are currently testing two new technologies at one location in Indiana: Flippy the Robot and a new drive-thru menu board with artificial intelligence

Flippy the robot

The headline grabber is Miso Robotics’ Flippy the robot.

White Castle is deploying the “robot on a rail” mechanism to work the fry station. It operates above the fryer, so it doesn’t bother any team members.

Flippy operates with a smart freezer provided by Computer Vison. This smart freezer controls portions and schedules when items are to be fried, with human team member supervision

AI Powered Drive-Thru Menu Board

The same White Castle branch in Indiana is also testing an AI powered drive-thru menu board. 

By using voice recognition technology from SoundHound, the menu board has the ability to listen and respond to customers. Guests can select a “known-user experience” that allows the AI to recommend items from the menu tailored to them. 

The contactless tech is also capable of performing “basket analysis” and can assess what’s been ordered and make really good suggestions as to what customers might want to add. 

Using voice recognition technology from SoundHound, the menu board can listen to and respond to customers. According to Carroll-Boser, a person can opt into a “known-user experience” that allows the AI to recommend menu items tailored for the customer.

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MedTech

Telemedicine to save healthcare industry $21 billion by 2025

Inside Telecom Staff

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telemedicine

It is without a shadow of a doubt that telemedicine was the champion of the health technology sector during the pandemic, allowing patients the ability to receive consultations and treatments by their doctors without the need for in-person appointments.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a tidal wave of technological acceleration across all forms of the tech sphere, with telemedicine leading the line from 2020’s $14.8 billion investments in digital health fundraising, according to a report by Mercom Capital Group.

The report highlighted that while equity investments in telemedicine rose 139 percent to $4.3 billion, other areas like data analytics and mobile health apps also earned strong support from investors.

But while news over MedTech investments took over headlines – telemedicine was also categorized as one of the most cost-effective technologies for the healthcare industry as it is set to save $21 billion globally by 2025, driven by teleconsultation services and rising from $11 billion in 2021, a new report by Juniper Research stressed.

This represents a growth rate of over 80 percent in the next four years. The concept of telemedicine involves the remote provision of healthcare services and includes technologies such as teleconsultations, remote patient monitoring and chatbots.

The research identified teleconsultations, a service that enables patients and physicians to interact remotely, as a key service that will enable these significant savings. “However, it cautioned that savings would be restricted to developed nations where access to required devices and Internet connectivity is prevalent,” the report noted.

As a result, it predicted that over 80 percent of savings will be attributable to North America and Europe by 2025.

Deregulation of telemedicine

The new report, Telemedicine: Emerging Technologies, Regional Readiness & Market Forecasts 2021 2025, estimated that over 280 million teleconsultations were performed in 2019. However, this rose to 348 million in 2020, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It anticipated that the activities of third-party healthcare service developers will be crucial in accelerating the deployment of emerging telemedicine services and increasing the uptake amongst healthcare providers.

However, the report predicted that the significant investment into integrating telemedicine services, and the requirement of data protection, such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) in the US, will discourage adoption amongst smaller healthcare providers.

To foster the adoption of telemedicine services, the report recommended that healthcare regulatory bodies continue to deregulate telemedicine services to minimize any remaining barriers to entry for smaller healthcare providers.

“Any deregulation must ensure that patient confidentiality is not undermined. Additionally, we recommend that innovative and emerging teleconsultation services are integrated into existing healthcare technologies, such as electronic health records, to maximize their benefits to healthcare providers,” research author, Adam Wears, remarked.

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MedTech

Panel suggests WHO should have more power to stop pandemics

Associated Press

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A panel of independent experts who reviewed the World Health Organization’s response to the coronavirus pandemic says the U.N. health agency should be granted “guaranteed rights of access” in countries to investigate emerging outbreaks, a contentious idea that would give it more powers and require member states to give up some of theirs.

In a report released Wednesday, the panel faulted countries worldwide for their sluggish response to COVID-19, saying most waited to see how the virus was spreading until it was too late to contain it, leading to catastrophic results. The group also slammed the lack of global leadership and restrictive international health laws that “hindered” WHO’s response to the pandemic.

Some experts criticized the panel for failing to hold WHO and others accountable for their actions during COVID-19, describing that as “an abdication of responsibility.”

Lawrence Gostin of Georgetown University said the panel “fails to call out bad actors like China, perpetuating the dysfunctional WHO tradition of diplomacy over frankness, transparency and accountability.”

The panel was led by former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who were tapped by WHO last year to examine the U.N. agency’s response to COVID-19 after bowing to a request from member countries.

“The situation we find ourselves in today could have been prevented,” Johnson Sirleaf said.

Beyond the call to boost WHO’s ability to investigate outbreaks, the panel made an array of recommendations, such as urging the health agency and the World Trade Organization to convene a meeting of vaccine-producing countries and manufacturers to quickly reach deals about voluntary licensing and technology transfer, in an effort to boost the world’s global supply of coronavirus shots.

The panel also suggested that WHO’s director-general — currently Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia — should be limited to a single seven-year term. As it stands, the WHO chief is elected to a five-year term that can be renewed once.

The suggestion to limit the tenure of WHO’s top leader appeared in part designed to ease the intense political pressure that WHO director-generals can face. Last year, the Trump administration repeatedly inveighed against the agency’s handling of the pandemic — taking aim at WHO’s alleged collusion with China.

An Associated Press investigation in June found WHO repeatedly lauded China in public while officials privately complained that Chinese officials stalled on sharing critical epidemic information with them, including the new virus’ genetic sequence.

Clark said the global diseases surveillance system needed to be overhauled — with WHO’s role strengthened.

“WHO should have the powers necessary to investigate outbreaks of concern, speedily guaranteed rights of access, and with the ability to publish information without waiting for member state approval,” she said.

Sophie Harman, a professor of international politics at Queen Mary University of London, said the panel’s recommendations were unlikely to be entirely welcomed by WHO’s member countries, and thus, unlikely to be implemented.

“Which states would actually allow WHO in to investigate an outbreak without their permission?” she asked.

Many doctors fatigued after treating COVID-19 patients said any reform of WHO should include an evaluation of its ability to properly assess the science of an emerging health threat.

David Tomlinson, a British physician who has been campaigning for health workers during the pandemic in the U.K., said WHO “failed on the most fundamental aspect” in its scientific leadership of COVID-19. He said WHO’s failure to acknowledge that much coronavirus transmission happens in the air has “amplified the pandemic.”

WHO has said coronavirus spread can happen in limited circumstances in the air but recommended against mask-wearing for the general public until last June.

Clare Wenham, a professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics, said the report overall was good, but questioned its support for the U.N.-backed program for coronavirus vaccines called COVAX, which relies on a “donation” model. Of the millions of COVID-19 vaccines administered to date, developing countries have received just 7%, WHO said this week.

“(COVAX) is not addressing one of the main problems, which is we need to rapidly ramp up production of the vaccines and distribution of vaccines,” she said. “And it’s still working on the model of a finite number that’s only able be produced by a certain few manufacturing locations.”

Overall, she suggested politicians needed to budge more than technical institutions like WHO.

“The problems aren’t technical. The problems are political. The problems are about like: How do you get governments to behave and think about things beyond their own borders?” Wenham said. “I don’t think that has been resolved.”


GENEVA (AP) — By MARIA CHENG and JAMEY KEATEN Associated Press.

AP Medical Writer Maria Cheng reported from London.

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MedTech

AI-powered tech offers music for anxiety and pain

Karim Husami

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AI-powered tech

British health tech start-up MediMusic has created an app and a streaming device called the MediBeat that dispenses personalized playlists to reduce anxiety and pain in patients using a ‘digital drip’ to administer the most calming music.

As such, patients could soon be prescribed soothing music selected by artificial intelligence (AI) to ease anxiety and pain, after an encouraging trial of a Hull health tech start-up’s new app.

The AI-powered tech could be used in treatment of dementia, pre/post operation, chronic pain, dentistry, and Alzheimer’s Disease through to improving motor response as part of a physical rehabilitation program.

Initial clinical NHS trials at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, found the use of MediMusic saw an up to 22 percent reduction in heart rate in patients with dementia during the COVID-19 pandemic. It can also be used in hospitals, care homes and dentist surgeries.

So how does the app work?

According to a nationwide NHS Staff Survey with nearly 600,000 responses, almost half of NHS staff in England (44 percent) have reported feeling unwell from work related stress during 2020, the highest rate recorded in the past five years.

The MediMusic app works with the patient’s age, gender, nationality, and ethnicity and based on sociological and psychological science, it then compiles in seconds the 20-minute playlist of soothing music to calm them.

Playlist running order is designed to reduce heart rate and stress hormones like cortisol and promotes relaxation through hormones like dopamine and oxytocin. The music is played through earphones and the MediBeat streaming device and a heart rate monitor worn on the wrist.

Dr Jacqueline Twamley, academic research and innovation manager at the Centre for Health Research & Innovation at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “The results have been very impressive. We used MediMusic on 25 patients suffering from dementia during the COVID-19 pandemic. One 75-year-old patient had vascular dementia and was known to have sundowning behaviour, which presents as agitation.”

“The initial findings are so positive that we’re now looking at how it can help ease anxiety and stress in doctors and nurses working in critical care on the frontline of caring for COVID patients,” he added.

Music therapy has already been proven in several previous studies to reduce anxiety by 44 percent and pain by 28 percent. This has resulted in a reduction in the need for relevant medication by 24 percent.

The brain responds to music more than any other stimulus. MediMusic’s algorithms extract the relevant features from the digital DNA of a piece of music, resulting in a fingerprint for healthcare use.

Using AI, machine learning (ML) and the data about the patient, the AI-powered tech then automatically creates playlists from music streaming services within a couple of clicks and plays the music through a streaming device called the MediBeat and a pair of headphones.

Gary Jones, CEO and co-founder of MediMusic said: “We’ve always felt the music can soothe our soul but now we have compelling evidence that it can help our mind and body too. With MediMusic, we’ve managed to digitally fingerprint the DNA of music so we can prescribe the right type of music as medicine.”

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