The EpiShuttle, a single-patient isolation and transport system, has the potential to lower costs, save time, and protect patients.
Norwegian medical technology company EpiGuard was founded by a group of doctors in 2015. As an international starter company, the medical background of its founders forms the backbone of their reputation and trust among customers. HEQ speaks to EpiGuard CEO Ellen Andersen about the company’s pioneering EpiShuttle, a patient isolation and transport system, which has received the CE mark as a certified Class 1 Medical Device.
What can you tell me about the EpiShuttle? How does it protect patients?
The EpiShuttle allows personnel to perform patient monitoring and treatment – including emergency procedures like intubation, if they become necessary during transport – and provides the patient with a lot more comfort. It is equipped with optimal leg support and an adjustable backrest, which is especially important when transporting patients with respiratory conditions like Covid-19; the ability to comfortably lift the patient means that they can sit higher and feel more relief. In addition to the comfort aspect, the EpiShuttle provides two layers of protection, creating negative pressure. Not only does this prevent any contaminated air from escaping from the shuttle, it is also able to prevent contaminated air to get into the isolated patient space.
How could the EpiShuttle support hospitals and medical centres in responding to disease outbreaks such as Ebola and Covid-19? What are its main advantages for medical staff?
One prerequisite for isolation and quarantine systems to work is that ambulances transporting patients in need of intensive care must be free of contamination; and what we have seen with Covid-19 is that healthcare systems are close to capacity, leading to the need to move more patients and added pressure to provide safe transport.
The hospital is the one place where you will find the highest concentration of people at risk, and where infections will have serious consequences – and hospital transport represents a security gap in emergency preparedness and contingency plans. When a patient is delivered from one medical team to another, from one hospital’s contingency plan to another, it may be unclear at any given point who is responsible for safety and infection control around that patient; and therefore, it is important to eliminate the risk of exposure during this transition. In the event of cluster formation, where a central point has a lot of cases of Covid-19, for instance, several patients may need to be moved to areas where there is less pressure on intensive care units. In order to do this effectively, you must have efficient transport.
The EpiShuttle makes patient transfer safe, reduces costs, and increases operational efficiency. An ambulance will usually require two to four hours of disinfection between each transport of a contagious or potentially contagious patient; while it can take up to a day to complete a full disinfection of a medical helicopter. However, because the EpiShuttle is airtight and equipped with negative pressure, this reduces the need for disinfection of the vehicles and thereby saves valuable time and resources. It will avoid the disruption of vehicles from service – the EpiShuttle itself can be disinfected later, while the helicopters and ambulances can return to service immediately.
Another significant feature of the EpiShuttle is that, since the shuttle is essentially airtight, the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) among medical staff is lowered. It is important to keep healthcare professionals safe during transport, as they must sit very close to the patient when travelling inside a helicopter or an ambulance; and working with personal protective equipment is quite exhausting at the best of times. Once the patient is inside the EpiShuttle the staff accompanying them have no need to wear personal protective equipment while in transit – and this in turn reduces the risk of mistakes caused by user fatigue and reduced situational awareness as a result of wearing heavy or cumbersome PPE.
What are some potential areas of use for the EpiShuttle? What areas has it been used in already and what further use cases do you anticipate in the future?
The current situation has necessitated more movement of patients over greater distances, in order to get them to hospitals with the required intensive care capacity; so the EpiShuttle has been deployed on journeys from patients’ homes to hospital, as well as in transport between hospitals to best exploit their intensive care capacity. It has been used to great effect both in air ambulance transport and in road transport.
In England, the EpiShuttle has the potential to become a way to rationalise and boost the efficacy of transport of highly infectious patients, whether they are affected by Covid-19 or other similarly infectious diseases. Rather than deploying extraneous teams of paramedics to transport patients for more than a couple of hours, the patient can be safely put inside the EpiShuttle, which allows them to undertake journeys of more than three hours with a single team of paramedics and drivers in one ambulance, instead of needing a backup ambulance and backup team – all equipped with the necessary personal protective equipment – waiting ready to step in. This represents a huge opportunity.
The EpiShuttle can also be used to great benefit inside hospitals for internal transport: transporting infectious patients within hospitals in this way will reduce the need to disinfect corridors, elevators, the emergency room and the isolation room. At the same time, the shuttle protects the patient from their surroundings in a situation with many contagious patients, some of whom may already be infected with Covid-19, for instance, without being aware of it. There are a lot of vulnerable and immunocompromised patients who need to be moved around both inside hospitals and between hospitals, such as burn victims, cancer patients or those who are undergoing bone marrow transplantation; and we can protect those patients by using the EpiShuttle to transport them safely to where they need to go – they can also receive treatment on the way if that becomes necessary.
How do you hope to see EpiGuard developing in the future? Do you have any other products in the pipeline?
We are in the process of entering the US market; and we are looking into the potential offered by China and Japan. We have made a great deal of headway in terms of sales in UK and Germany, and are now looking towards moving into France, Spain and Italy; but we do also want to emphasise our entry into China, Japan and the US and Canadian markets over the next couple of years. We are working to expand modern disinfection technologies with Epishuttle and develop new products with funding from the Horizon 2020 programme; and we plan to investigate other areas like acquisitions or joint ventures with companies focusing on infection control and disease prevention.
This article is for issue 14 of Health Europa. Click here to get your free subscription today.