Clockwork: The Solution that Supports Everyday Life of Shift Workers is Being Tested in Portuguese Hospitals

A pilot study coordinated by researchers from FhP-AICOS (Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS) is encouraging healthcare shift workers to become aware of their physical activity and sleep rhythms, and to reflect about their work and lifestyle, using technology. Clockwork, a tech solution created to achieve this, is already being tested in Portugal at CUF hospitals, and it will get its debut in Hungary soon.

Most people work between 8:00 and 18:00 on week days, but healthcare shift workers engage in work activities in less orthodox schedules. Health professionals often start shifts at 8 p.m. and end them at 8 a.m., which can create a misalignment between their circadian rhythm (the body's internal clock) and the outside world.

Shift workers report the worst work-life balance, suffer from fatigue, and are more prone to develop a number of health conditions, including sleep disorders, peptic ulcer disease, or coronary heart disease.

That’s why, at the start of the project, researchers at FhP-AICOS posed the question: how can technology support and improve the lives of shift workers? The answer? Technology can’t fix an out-of-sync biological clock, but it can make people more aware of their habits and encourage self-care.

In Portugal, the pilot study is being used by 5 shift workers, among nurses and nurse assistants of CUF hospitals (Grupo José de Mello Saúde). The solution is going to be tested over a two-month period in which participants are interviewed multiple times, to understand the impact of the system.

Clockwork is a solution composed by a smart badge and a smartphone application for shift workers, and a Box for measuring environmental conditions, such as light exposure, temperature and noise. The smart badge monitors activity and light exposure using accelerometers and light sensors. The collected data is presented to the users in an app, where they can also log on their work and sleep schedule, so that they can be aware of their physical condition and sleep rhythms.

The ultimate goal is to support self-understanding and for people to better practice regulation strategies in their daily lives. Researchers expect, at the end of the pilot tests, that the participants will be better aware of their habits and rhythms, and, in this way, more informed to take self-care decisions regarding their health.

Although not part of this pilot trial, researchers are also developing a smart lamp that can help users becoming more alert or sleepy, by mimicking the cues that day light gives to our bodies. The smart lamp will be controlled by the smartphone and will have personalized light intervention plans for each user.

Also in the works is an analysis system for sleep specialists and health and safety technicians, allowing them to analyse the data of shift workers, in order to detect early health issues before they become problematic.

Clockwork is developed by a consortium that joins 5 countries, Portugal, Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Spain. Besides Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS and José Mello Saúde, the consortium includes Ab.Acus, Grado Zero, BCB, KOHS, RK TECH.

About Fraunhofer Portugal

The Associação Fraunhofer Portugal Research (Fraunhofer Portugal), is a non-profit private association founded by Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the largest organization for applied research in Europe. Fraunhofer Portugal promotes and coordinates the cooperation between its research centers, other research institutions and Industry partners, with the objective of undertaking applied research of direct utility to private and public enterprises and of wide benefit to society.

About Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS

The Fraunhofer Portugal Research Center for Assistive Information and Communication Solutions (Fraunhofer AICOS) is the first research center operated by Associação Fraunhofer Portugal Research (Fraunhofer Portugal), located in Porto. Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS focuses its activity in the area of assistive information and communication solutions, working with companies interested in outsourcing/co-developing their applied research projects. Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS offers specialized competences centred on the improvement of end-user experience and usability of applications, contributing with its applied research solutions to the market success of its client’s products and services.

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