Eko Core, A Digital Upgrade For The Centuries-Old Stethoscope | TechCrunch

Eko Core Digital Stethoscope - product picture
Eko Core Digital Stethoscope

The Eko Core digital stethoscope is a “why didn’t I think of that?” invention.

In a few months, the stethoscope will celebrate its 200th birthday. A medical breakthrough in 1816, it’s still a part of nearly every doctor’s visit today and a symbol of medicine itself.…

Digital Stethoscope

Stripped to its essentials, the Eko Core digital stethoscope is a highly engineered Bluetooth microphone designed to fit medical stethoscopes. The device wirelessly transmits patients’ heart sounds (not EKG) to a smart phone or tablet app.

The Eko Core was invented and commercialized by a team of UC Berkeley engineering graduates (claimed to be the youngest team to secure FDA clearance for a Class II medical device).

What Eko Core did well

In developing and executing its strategy, the Eko Core team did a number of things right:

  • Targeted a huge existing market. Most doctors and many nurses carry and use stethoscopes every day.
  • Recognized and addressed a  nagging clinical problem: It can take years (even decades) to become adept at using a stethoscope to recognize heart sounds.
  • Improved the functionality of the stethoscope by enabling visualization and amplification. Benefit to the user is improved confidence in identification of heart sounds.
  • Made their device a simple, affordable ($199) add-on to the user’s existing stethoscope.
  • Employed a Bluetooth wireless connection to the user’s smart phone or tablet . Data  from the stethoscope is displayed in a custom app.
  • Enabled data sharing via “the cloud” so that users can share typical and atypical heart sounds and learn from each other.
  • Partnered with major EHR suppliers to enable the digital stethoscope data to be entered into the patient’s electronic medical record.
  • Identified the potential for use of the Eko Core to lower healthcare costs by reducing costly referrals to cardiologists for unusual heart sounds.

What Eko Core hasn’t done yet

  • Showed they can be financially successful over time. Medical device sales and marketing is expensive. Manufacturing under FDA, GMP, ISO, etc. regulations can increase costs. Maintaining healthy profit margins on low-priced medical devices can be a challenge.
  • Exhibited a competitive advantage over similar products, Thinklabs for example.
  • Fully protected their intellectual property, although the company did recently file a patent application.
  • Leveraged their technology beyond one-hit wonder status.

Takeaways

The number of medical stethoscope users in the developed world is on the order of several million. Growth rates are slow, with new graduates replacing retirees, etc.  That puts the potential market at around $500-600 million.

Not bad, but once you “pick the low-hanging fruit” and sell to the early adopters and early majority customers, selling more units gets progressively tougher and more costly. And given competition, it’s a race for market share to capture and keep customers.

I think this will be a fun and profitable business for a while. Longer term, I hope Eko Core has a big medical device company lined up as a distribution partner and has an encore product that leverages the same technology and customer base.

Source: The Eko Core Is A Digital Upgrade For The Centuries-Old Stethoscope | TechCrunch

Eko Devices website

3D Printing Parts from McMaster-Carr| Make:

McMaster-Carr Catalog 3D print
McMaster-Carr Catalog

McMaster-Carr, the industrial supply giant (http://www.mcmaster.com/), has been in business since 1901 but the company is fully embracing the digital age. McMaster previously released an iPad app of its massive paper catalog containing over 555,000 items. The company has gone one step further and is now offering 3D printing files of many of its parts.

Engineers and designers unsure about dimensions and compatibility of a particular part now have the option to download and print a 3D printing file of many parts in the McMaster -Carr catalog. The user can then try the printed part for fit before ordering “real” parts. This capability can save makers considerable time and expense.

It’s probably just a matter of time until 3D printing has the capability to duplicate manufactured parts in terms of materials and physical performance. Great to see a company that’s over 100 years old innovating and keeping up technologically with its customers.

Takeaways: If you are developing a new widget or prototyping a novel medical device, check the McMaster-Carr catalog, website, or iPad app if you are looking for readily available parts and you don’t want to wait or pay for custom prototypes. You can even check out a new part without the wait by downloading and 3D printing some parts.

If your company-startup or otherwise-is in a rut, look at McMaster-Carr for inspiration. If a 114 year-old company is still innovating and  differentiating itself via new technologies, your company can, too.

Pro Tip: You Can 3D Print Parts from McMaster-Carr | Make:
Link to Instructables set-by-step instructions

10 Principles of 3D Printing

3D printed bionic ear
image via American Chemical Society publications

Last week I attended an event, “From Trinkets to Body Parts: 3D Printing – Transforming Sci-Fi Fantasy Into Reality” sponsored by the Seattle MIT Enterprise Forum. The keynote speaker was Hod Lipson, PhD, Professor of Engineering at Cornell University. Prof. Lipson gave an informative and entertaining talk centered around his 10 principles of 3D printing.

There was also a panel of 3D printing industry experts and lots of Q&A with the large audience. It seems that there is much interest in 3D printing – a not-so-new technology whose time has come?

Prof. Lipson identified 10 key principles of 3D printing in his talk:

  1. Complexity is free
  2. Variety is free
  3. No assembly required
  4. Zero lead time
  5. Zero constraints
  6. Zero skill manufacturing
  7. Compact, portable manufacturing
  8. Less waste by-product
  9. Infinite shades of materials
  10. Precise repeatability

Here is my take on the 10 principles:

1. It’s as easy to 3D print a complicated piece as it is to 3D print a simple piece.
2. Every piece that you print can be different without increasing cost or cycle time.
3. The assembly process can be part of the printing process, e.g., a bicycle chain has been 3D printed.
4. Because there is no tooling and no setup, the only lead time is the time required to start the printer and send the digital file.
5. You can fabricate things using 3D printing that could not be made any other way.
6. Since there are no precision assembly tasks, printer operators do not require specialized skills.
7. 3D printers are relatively small, portable, and inexpensive compared to injection molding machines, milling machines, punch presses, and foundries.
8. The 3D printing process does not generate waste material. Neither does modern injection molding, but processes that remove material such as milling do generate considerable waste.
9. Not only can you combine colors in infinite shades, but you can combine materials to create unique mechanical properties.
10. Within the tolerance limits of the printer (0.1 mm for commercial grade printers), every piece printed is exactly like every other piece printed.

Prof. Lipson is also the author of a new book, Fabricated: the New World of 3D Printing.

There are drawbacks and limitations to 3D printing, of course. High volume production is better suited economically for injection molding. Surface finish can be rough, requiring secondary processing, although efforts are ongoing to improve surface finish and textures. Pieces may not have isotropic physical and mechanical properties.

Prof. Lipson identified an incredible range of materials that have been used as the raw material in 3D printing: plastic, of course, sand, concrete, various types of food, paper, steel and other metals, and even living cells.

Some products that have been 3D printed: a working gun, clothing, shoes, furniture, aircraft parts, artwork, food (might be what astronauts eat on their way to Mars and beyond), a working loudspeaker, batteries and electrical circuits, and body parts.

And here are some examples of 3D printing in healthcare and medical devices. Some are in research, some in active development, and others are commercially available:

  • Invisalign braces – custom made for each patient
  • Knee meniscus
  • Heart valve
  • Ear prosthetic
  • Organs – liver, kidney, heart

3D printing of human body parts and organs is also called “bioprinting” in this 2013 New York Times article, “At the Printer, Living Tissue”. The article is pessimistic about near term prospects for 3D printed organs, although it notes that there is much research and development being conducted. Others in technology think that breakthroughs are imminent: Functional 3D Printed Organs by 2014 > ENGINEERING.com. There is a startup bioprinting company, Organovo, developing an artificial liver. The liver in its first incarnation will be suitable for drug development and testing, not for human implantation. A research team at Princeton created a functional 3D printed ear, again, not suitable for implantation: Researchers create world’s first 3D-printed bionic organ | ExtremeTech.

Takeaways: 3D printing is becoming widely known and commercially acceptable. In the medical field, it can be used for rapid prototyping and even for fabrication of low volume production parts. As the “10 principles” indicate, you can save time and money in your medical device development projects by using 3D printing.

Renal Denervation – the next big bust?

Oops! Road SignOn November 1, I wrote a blog post about what seemed like an exciting new therapeutic market for medical devices, renal denervation to treat hypertension and lower high blood pressure:

Renal Denervation – the next big thing?

Fast forward to the present. Just 11 weeks later, it appears that this hot new market is in trouble.

First, this negative news from Medtronic:

Medtronic’s Hypertension Study Fails Taking Analysts By Surprise | MDDI Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry News Products and Suppliers.

The failure occurred in a large, randomized study being conducted at 87 medical centers in the U.S.

And then the company statement:

Medtronic CEO: Failure of Hypertension Clinical Trial Not An Execution Issue | MDDI Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry News Products and Suppliers

followed by competitive reaction from St. Jude Medical:

St. Jude’s CEO is still betting on renal denervation, despite Medtronic’s setback – FierceMedicalDevices.

Most recently, Covidien has decided to exit the market. Covidien spent $60 million to acquire Maya Medical and additional millions on clinical studies. They stated that the market in the European Union was developing too slowly and that they would be taking a $20 million writedown on their assets:

Covidien Pulls Out of OneShot Renal Denervation Program Citing Slow Market Development | MDDI Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry News Products and Suppliers.

Medtronic famously spent $800 million to purchase Silicon Valley startup Ardian. Early clinical results were promising but when Medtronic tried to scale up the clinical studies for FDA approval, the results were disappointing. The company is in full “reboot” mode and is planning to convene a blue ribbon panel of experts to determine what went wrong and what to do now. I think I would have my resume updated and on the street if I were involved in this unpleasant set of circumstances.

Yet to be heard from are two other renal denervation market competitors: Boston Scientific, which spent $425 million to acquire Vessix in late 2012, and VC-funded startup Kona Medical which is developing a noninvasive ultrasound-based technology.

Takeaways: There is enormous pressure on medical device companies these days to identify, enter, and dominate new markets. Unproven therapies and technologies will always engender risk. Since most innovation is done at startups now, it will be interesting to see how risk mitigation occurs in future acquisitions or if there were any mitigations included in the Medtronic or Covidien deals.

If you are a startup executive or founder, you can look forward to more stringent diligence and a longer wait before investment or acquisition by strategic partners. There may also be more contingencies requiring technical and clinical milestones to be achieved before milestone payments are made. Make sure you have a good general counsel attorney and CFO. You are going to need them.

Smaller, faster, lighter, cheaper medical devices

http://3278as3udzze1hdk0f2th5nf18c1.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/drop-theranos.jpg
image via singularityhub.com

Is it just me or does it seem that most interesting medical device innovations are coming from startups and not from established companies? Here are a few medical devices being developed that are smaller, faster, lighter, and cheaper than established technologies and products.

The point of care diagnostic system being developed by startup Theranos relies heavily on microfluidic and automation technologies. The technology, while impressive, is not revolutionary. Theranos is using readily accessible technology to develop a point-of-care diagnostic test device that can be operated by virtually anyone. The test uses a pinprick to collect a drop of blood to perform all of its tests. No need for a nurse or technician. The test is completely automated so there is no need for a diagnostic technician.

Time is saved because the sample is processed onsite instead of being transported to a central lab and there is negligible wait time compared with large diagnostic equipment. One of the biggest drawbacks to present diagnostic testing is the wait: patients are anxious and physicians often can’t administer medicine or therapy until and unless an initial diagnosis is confirmed.

Tribogenics is developing the next generation of x-ray imaging technology. From the company website:

Tribogenics technology enables portable, compact X-ray solutions for applications in industrial testing, medical diagnosis, security screening and other industries. By miniaturizing X-ray sources and eliminating the need for high voltage, we can create products and solutions unattainable using existing X-ray technology.

While I’m not sure how big the opportunity is for pocket-sized x-ray machines in medicine, there are plenty of industrial and commercial uses. Plus, the potential for portability, low cost, and simplicity may make the Tribogenics device well-suited for deployment in developing countries with little or no medical infrastructure.

The third technology I’m writing about isn’t a product but a concept. The Smartphone Physical is being termed “the physician’s bag of the 21st century.” In a recent TED Talk, Shiv Gaglani showed that a complete physical exam could be conducted with a smartphone and what are essentially smart attachments. For example, companies have developed or are developing ECG leads, a stethoscope, otoscope, ultrasound wand, and even a spiromoter. Gaglani and his colleagues are creating a database of connected devices and apps and hope to start a company to commercialize the Smartphone Physical.

One concern about the Smartphone Physical is a condition that is described by a new word, cyberchondria. Yes, it means hypochondria that is facilitated (or exacerbated) by the ready availability of digital and connected devices and apps. Don’t think it could happen? Ask any doctor about how many patients self-diagnose on the Internet before their office visit. Cyberchondria is real.

Takeaways: If you can take an existing medical device or technology and improve it by making it smaller, faster, lighter, and/or cheaper, you have the makings of a company. Your new device doesn’t have to be better than what it replaces but it would make it easier to sell if it had the same quality, accuracy, etc.

There are plenty of examples of medical devices that are big, bulky, slow and costly. Give customers two or more benefits based on eliminating or minimizing these undesirable features and you will create a market niche for your products.

Read more:

Small, Fast and Cheap, Theranos Is the Poster Child of Med Tech — and It’s in Walgreen’s | Singularity Hub.

http://www.theranos.com/

California Startup, Tribogenics, Develops Smart Phone Sized Portable X-ray Machines | Singularity Hub.

http://tribogenics.com/

Smartphone Physicals Are Taking Off With Explosion of Apps, Attachments | Singularity Hub.

http://www.smartphonephysical.com/

 

Too good to be true…or just hype?

http://www.getairo.com/img/airoband.png
image via getairo.com

In a development many were expecting, Canadian mobile health startup Airo Health backed off on its launch of the world’s first wearable device that could track caloric intake. The bold initial product announcement and aggressive commercialization timing led many to think it was too good to be true. Others dismissed the story as just hype.

 

In a story on techvibes.com, the company announced today that it was cancelling pre-orders and issuing refunds to prospective customers.

“Our early testing of AIRO shows tremendous promise, but through conversations with others in the industry, we have come to realize that it requires further testing and calibration through more extensive trials before it will be ready for general market availability,” wrote founder Abhilash Jayakumar in an email to backers this week. “The additional validation required will take us some time and, unfortunately, we no longer expect to be able to ship the first AIRO wristbands by Fall 2014 as initially indicated.”

From the Airo Health website:

NUTRITION

We all know the importance of eating right, but keeping track of what we eat takes too much effort. AIRO is able to automatically track both the calories you consume and the quality of your meals. With a built in spectrometer, AIRO uses different wavelengths of light to detect nutrients released into the bloodstream as they are broken down during and after your meals.

STRESS

AIRO helps you become proactive about stress. It measures heart rate variability, the aggregate response of your autonomic nervous system, derived from heart rate, to measure the smallest fluctuations in your stress levels. AIRO can not only warn you as your stress levels rise but can also provide recommendations as to how best to deal with it. Over time, AIRO gets smarter by learning what calms you and what doesn’t.

SLEEP

We spend a third of our lives sleeping but we know very little about it. AIRO tracks your circadian rhythm and can see distinct sleep cycles. It’ll wake you up at the optimum time and will let you know how much of your night’s sleep was restorative.

EXERCISE

It’s no secret that living an active lifestyle can lead to a long and healthy life. The best way to keep track of your daily activity is to monitor your heart rate; everything else is just a proxy. By tracking your heart rate, AIRO calculates the number of calories your body burns throughout the day.

I wrote about Airo Health and my healthy skepticism of its commercialization timing here. So did MedCityNews and mobilehealthnews.

Takeaways: Developing new medical technology is difficult, much more so than envisioning it. What works in the lab seldom works as well in humans. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get free PR for new and interesting technology without much proof. You can even generate orders without having a functional prototype.

It’s too soon to know if Airo Health actually has unique and innovative mobile health technology. It’s also too soon to know if the company has forever tarnished its reputation. I’m guessing they have “one more chance to make it right”. If they go away and perfect their technology and then try to promote it, the media will grab the story because of the company’s previous sins. If they fail again, I believe it will be virtually impossible to get press or investor attention.

Good luck, Airo.

Read more:

http://www.techvibes.com/blog/airo-health-cancels-preorders-2013-11-21

Startup unveils a wearable device it says can count calories — but it doesn’t actually exist yet – MedCity News.

Question marks, incredulity meet the announcement of Airo | mobihealthnews.

The Clever Bottle vs. the Smart Pill

http://www.clevercap.org/images/about_image.png
image via clevercaprx.com

Patients are terrible at taking prescription medications. A couple of startups have developed devices that aim to solve the problem, but with wildly different solutions: The Clever Bottle vs. the Smart Pill.

A recent study by WHO estimated that 50% of patients with chronic illnesses don’t take their drugs as prescribed. This behavior increases deaths and complications. Further, it costs about $100 billion per year in avoidable healthcare costs.

 

 

Medication compliance is a problem that has been around for thousands of years. In fact, a paper in The Mayo Clinic Proceedings included a quote from Hippocrates who lived and practiced medicine more than two thousand years ago:

Keep a watch…on the faults of the patients, which often make them lie about the taking of things prescribed. For through not taking disagreeable drinks, purgative or other, they sometimes die.

Hippocrates, Decorum

Ensuring that patients take their medications seems to be an unglamorous approach to a big and costly healthcare problem. It’s also a potentially lucrative market. While neither of the solutions would be considered simple or low tech by most people, they are direct in how they address the issue.

The Clever Cap pill bottle is something most of us might say, “hey, I thought of that!” The people at Compliance Meds Technologies in south Florida took the next step and developed their idea. The Clever Cap fits on standard pill bottles, dispenses only the prescribed amount of medication, keeps track of medications dispensed, and communicates wirelessly with mobile devices or with a special hub. The hub is a device made by Qualcomm in their attempt to cash in on the vast potential in mobile and digital health data.

CleverCap can also be reprogrammed and reused. The device is reported to work even without a wireless connection. It’s not clear what happens if the batteries die. What the CleverCap can’t do is know if the patient really swallowed the pills.

The Smart Pill, branded as the Ingestion Event Marker or IEM by its developer, Proteus Digital Health of Redwood City, California, aims to embed a microchip in each pill. The chip is activated and powered by stomach acid and apparently passes harmlessly through the digestive system and is eliminated. The chip communicates time and date ingested as well as physiological and behavioral patient data to a wrist patch worn by the patient.

Very high tech. Indeed, the company has partnerships with Novartis, Medtronic, St. Jude Medical, and Oracle among others. The company has raised a lot of money including $62.5 million in “the second closing of its F round.” Proteus has received FDA marketing clearance, a de novo 510(k) for its technology. It remains to be seen if drug manufacturers will need additional FDA clearance to use the technology with their pharmaceuticals.

The Smart Pill definitely knows if the patient swallowed the pills. The big question is whether patients want this much technology in their bodies vs. the less intrusive CleverCap. My guess is that there is probably room for both solutions in this potentially large emerging market.

Takeaways: There are unsolved problems and unmet needs everywhere in healthcare. We’ve all daydreamed about things like smart pills and clever caps. Keep an open mind and perhaps you will recognize a new opportunity.

Both of these technologies are potentially disruptive and they both make use of the latest information technology including cloud analytics and reporting. The CleverCap seems to have the quickest path to market but the Smart Pill has all sorts of other potential capabilities and that’s probably why the company is well-funded and flush with partners. Both strategies seem viable and there’s plenty of room in the market for their innovations and more.

Read more:

CleverCap Pill Bottle Connects to Wifi, Dispenses Only as Directed, Uploads To The Cloud | Singularity Hub.

The Pills Have Eyes: Microchipped Medicine Is Coming | Singularity Hub.

Medication Adherence: WHO Cares?.

The artificial hip fiasco

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hip_replacement
image via wikipedia.org

Designing medical devices is hard work. Designing artificial joints is even harder. The ongoing artificial hip fiasco in the medical device industry is proof.

Artificial joints such as hips and knees are incredible technologies. They can take people out of wheelchairs and turn them into active adults. The crippling pain and infirmity of arthritis and other degenerative diseases are banished, at least for a while.

The requirements for these high tech medical devices are challenging. They are implants, subjected to full immersion in bodily fluids and subject to all of the stresses and biochemical processes of the human body. Ideally, the implant should last the rest of the patient’s life although that seems to be one of the most challenging requirements.

Implants such as artificial joints that must move may be the most difficult of all to design and to last in the body. Materials selection is particularly challenging. Metal implants must be sufficiently hard and tough to take the loading and repetitive motion of a patient’s joint for years and years. Ceramic implants must be fracture-resistant to impact loads and shocks, say from a jump or a fall. Polymer implants must be low friction but must not break up under mechanical stress or chemical attack. And coatings must not migrate to other parts of the body. Of course, none of the materials in the implants can be toxic.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be an ideal combination of materials for hip implants. Interestingly as well (and I’m sure of substantial frustration to device engineers), there does not appear to be a reliable in vitro or in vivo model with which to perform wear and life testing. If there were a robust model, none of these implants would have made it to market without major revisions in materials and/or design.

Implant designs have failed mechanically through fracture and friction and more insidiously, have raised the potential for cancer and autoimmune disorders through migration of metals, coatings, and polymers to other areas of the body. In many cases, patients have undergone additional implant surgeries as a result of the failures. And these are not trivial operations.

A report today in Fierce Medical Devices indicated that Johnson & Johnson has settled 7,500 lawsuits for its metal-on-metal hip implants for a whopping $4 billion. That’s an average of $300,000 per implant and is in addition to other lawsuits settled in October. Other lawsuits against J&J are still pending as well as legal exposure outside the U.S. J&J announced recently that it will exit the metal-on-metal and ceramic-on-metal implant markets in 2014. I’m guessing that the legal settlements wiped out any profits made over the years and is probably going to cost untold numbers of jobs.

J&J’s competitors have problems too. According the the Fierce Medical article, Biomet, Stryker, and others are facing similar liability situations with respect to metal-on-metal implants.

The market for these devices is large and increasing. Hip implants are one of the most frequent orthopedic surgeries. As the population of seniors in the U.S. and other developed countries continues to grow while the baby boom generation ages, demand for procedures that maintain active lifestyles will continue to increase.

Takeaways: The onus is on medical device engineers to create valid in vitro and in vivo preclinical models and to test exhaustively before releasing to manufacturing. Engineers and researchers must also identify biomaterials and designs that are truly biocompatible and able to meet the demanding requirements that these implants must satisfy.

Give the track record of implants, engineers and medical device executives can expect increased scrutiny and skepticism from regulatory agencies, investors, physicians, and patients and their families.

Of course, it also means that there is an incredible opportunity awaiting the company or engineer that can solve this intractable issue.

Read more:

Report: J&J settles most metal hip lawsuits in $4B-plus accord – FierceMedicalDevices.

More Artificial Hip Concerns – NYTimes.com.

Jumper Cables for Your Brain

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2013/11/03/magazine/03brain1/mag-03brain-t_CA0-articleLarge.jpgA novel therapy that improves mental performance in healthy people is being called “jumper cables for your brain.” The scientific name for the therapy is transcranial direct-current stimulation, tDCS for short.

A similar yet very different treatment, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), formerly called electroshock therapy, doesn’t have a positive image in most peoples’ minds. Popular culture including movies and TV has convinced most of us that it’s used to treat crazy people, usually with extremely undesirable outcomes, and that the people giving the treatment are either mad scientists or evil government agents.

ECT does have a place in modern neuroscience, however. It is often the last resort therapy for patients with intractable depression and other conditions that do not respond to drug treatments.

tDCS uses very low voltage and very little current to achieve its effect, less than 1% of the enegy used in ECT. The tDCS devices being studied today use a 9 volt battery for power. tDCS researchers have been using currents in the range of 300 to 500 microamps. In contrast, ECT uses much more current, about 2000 times as much. According to an article in Wikipedia, “Typically, the electrical stimulus used in ECT is about 800 milliamps…”

 Researchers have identified a myriad of benefits for the novel therapy. From the article in The New York Times:

Scientific papers published in leading peer-reviewed journals since 2005 have shown that tDCS can improve the speed or accuracy with which people perform [a computerized] attention-switching task. Other studies have found it can improve everything from working memory to long-term memory, math calculations, reading ability, solving difficult problems, piano playing, complex verbal thought, planning, visual memory, the ability to categorize, the capacity for insight, post-stroke paralysis and aphasia, chronic pain and even depression. Effects have been shown to last for weeks or months.

“tDCS will not make you superhuman, but it may allow you to work at your maximum capacity,” said Felipe Fregni, the Brazilian physician and neurophysiologist who runs Harvard’s Laboratory of Neuromodulation at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. “It helps you achieve your personal best level of functioning. Let’s say you didn’t sleep well the night before. Or perhaps you’re depressed, or you suffered a stroke. It helps your brain reach its peak performance.”

No one is really sure why the therapy works although there are theories. The brain is essentially a very complex electrochemical computer. Applying a weak electrical field to neurons while performing a task seems to make the neurons fire easier and to remember the task for some time. Unfortunately, researchers have not yet identified the specific mechanism that is responsible for the improvements. As a result, research funding has been sparse because peer reviewers for funding agencies in the U.S. government remain skeptical.

A number of companies are pursuing commercialization of tDCS technology and are engaged with the U.S. FDA on the regulatory approval process. ECT devices are categorized as Class III or pre-market approval (PMA). It remains to be seen if the new, lower power devices also fall into the PMA category. A less restrictive FDA classification would mean a greater market potential and benefits to ordinary healthy people who are looking for a little mental advantage. I would definitely consider trying one of these devices in exchange for a few of those mental benefits!

Takeaways: There are many processes and body functions that are not fully understood or characterized. When researchers continue to investigate these promising areas despite a lack of funding, it might mean that there is an opportunity for collaboration and eventual commercialization.

Of course, something like tDCS, “brain enhancement technology” comes with risks. What might be the long term effect of the therapy on the brain? What about effects on children and adolescents?

Finally, it will be imperative to separate the new technology from the stigma of electroconvulsive therapy in order to appeal to healthy consumers.

Read more:

Jumper Cables for the Mind | New York Times Magazine

GLNT gets another patent to treat Parkinson’s for transcranial direct current stimulation during sleep.

Renal Denervation – the next big thing?

blood pressure checkIt seems like every big medical device company is working on a technology for renal denervation to treat high blood pressure.

Development and market availability of a therapy for hypertension (high blood pressure) is a big deal. Here are some facts about hypertension from the World Heart Federation:

  • Globally, nearly one billion people have high blood pressure (hypertension); of these, two-thirds are in developing countries.
  • Hypertension is one of the most important causes of premature death worldwide and the problem is growing; in 2025, an estimated 1.56 billion adults will be living with hypertension.
  • Hypertension is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease worldwide.
  • People with hypertension are more likely to develop complications of diabetes.

Some additional facts about hypertension in the USA from the Centers for Disease Control:

  • 67 million American adults (31%) have high blood pressure—that’s 1 in every 3 American adults.
  • 69% of people who have a first heart attack, 77% of people who have a first stroke, and 74% of people with chronic heart failure have high blood pressure. High blood pressure is also a major risk factor for kidney disease.
  • More than 348,000 American deaths in 2009 included high blood pressure as a primary or contributing cause.
  • High blood pressure costs the nation $47.5 billion annually in direct medical expenses and$3.5 billion each year in lost productivity.
  • About half (47%) of people with high blood pressure have their condition under control.

Hypertension is treated currently with drugs of course. According to a report from ADS Reports, the global market for antihypertensive drugs was $29.9 billion in 2010 and is projected to reach $33 billion in 2017. That’s a huge target for interventional therapy.

I wrote about Bellevue, WA-based Kona Medical a couple of weeks ago receiving a $10 million investment specifically earmarked for their market entry into China, obviously one of the biggest potential markets.

Kona recently announced interim results from two ongoing clinical trials. It reported an average systolic blood pressure reduction of 29 mmHg at 6 months in their first study and a three-month drop of 19.4 mmHg in the second study using a dosing pattern that reduced therapy time from 13 to three minutes.

Kona’s results are significant because its therapy is completely noninvasive. It uses high intensity focused ultrasound on the surface of the skin to deliver energy to ablate the renal nerves.

Other companies developing renal denervation technologies include St. Jude Medical, Boston Scientific, and Medtronic. Each has chosen a different energy modality to deliver the therapy.

MedCityNews reports that St. Jude is using a multi-electrode catheter to deliver electrical energy to the renal nerve sites. The company reported results from a clinical study: at 18 months, 77 percent of the 46 patients treated with St. Jude’s technology, the EnligHTN system, had responded to therapy. St. Jude’s system total ablation time is about four minutes, according to a company statement.

The Boston Scientific therapy uses bipolar (electrical) energy to deliver therapy. After 12 months, the company reported a “clinically-meaningful decrease in office systolic blood pressure” in 85 percent of the 139 patients treated. The Boston Scientific therapy requires a brief 30-second treatment time.

Medtronic seems to have a head start in the market. In early 2011, it finalized its purchase of Ardian, a Silicon Valley startup that was working on a novel therapy for hypertension since 2003. The Medtronic RDN system therapy uses radio frequency energy delivered via a catheter to the renal arteries/nerves. Medtronic’s Symplicity renal denervation system has a CE mark and is commercially available outside the U.S. Medtronic has a number of completed and ongoing clinical studies, all of which have resulted in conclusions that the therapy is safe and effective.

Takeaways: New markets are one area where startups can compete on a level playing field with huge, multinational companies. They can be more nimble, take more risks, and can pivot when things don’t go according to plan. In the case of renal denervation, Kona seems to have a decided advantage with its noninvasive technology and treatment. Of course, Medtronic has a years-long head start and we all know the “best” technology doesn’t always prevail, right?

Read more:

Two top medical device companies announce promising renal denervation tech results – MedCity News.

Kona notches solid results for novel renal denervation tech – FierceMedicalDevices.

 

 

How many calories were in that cheeseburger?

CheeseburgerA Canadian startup has developed technology that may disrupt the mobile health tracking market. Airo Health is commercializing a nutrition tracker that can passively detect and inform the wearer exactly how many calories were consumed in the user’s last meal.

The nutrition tracker uses a light emitter and detector in a wristband and fairly sophisticated software in a smartphone app to measure metabolites in the bloodstream. The metabolites are released during and after the user’s meal.

The Airo device also detects the user’s heartbeat and uses that information to assess activity and fitness levels. All of this analysis starts with sensors in a small, unobtrusive wristband.

According to the company co-founder, Abhilash Jayakumar, Airo received US$81,400 in seed funding from the Canadian federal government and the University of Waterloo. The company says it is planning a commercial launch in the fall of 2014 – that’s just a year or so away. Airo has not yet built production prototypes, so their launch date is most likely optimistic.

In an interview with MobiHealthNews, Jayakumar said the sensor bracelet is detecting accurate calorie intakes about 80% of the time. That’s an exciting development, but the lead times for consumer electronics make a full commercial launch in a year improbable at best.

The fledgling startup has done impressive work with very little funding. They are taking digital health and the “quantified self” movement to a new level. Competitors are no doubt already starting development of their own passive calorie tracking technology. What would really be disruptive is an app to make you not eat that cheeseburger in the first place!

Takeaways: Mobile health sensors and applications are getting progressively more sophisticated. It remains to be seen if there is a sizeable market for these devices and apps but they are capable of measuring things in real time that were previously available only in a doctor’s office by appointment. The commercial availability of a Star Trek-like Tricorder device may be only a few years away.

Most of the personal fitness devices are targeted at healthy people. There is a large opportunity as well in monitoring people with chronic diseases or those recovering from surgery.

Read more:

AIRO ups the ante with passive nutrition tracking

 

Riboflavin: not just for breakfast anymore

image via wikipedia

Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, is a micronutrient and food additive commonly found in breakfast cereals and other processed foods. It’s yellow or yellowish orange in color and is sometimes used as a food coloring. Now it’s being researched for use as a biocompatible “ink” ingredient for 3D printed implants and other structures to be placed in the human body.

3D printing has enormous potential to enable mass customization of medical products. Think of having an implant crafted to fit you and only you. How about 3D printing structures on demand rather than ordering from a manufacturer?

Conformis, an othopedic medical device company, makes individualized metal joint implants from imaging studies using a milling machine. The milling machine creates a custom-made prosthesis for knee replacement surgery. Patients have to wait about 7 weeks for their prosthesis to be made, however. 3D printing promises to be much faster since the machines are small and relatively inexpensive.

One issue has been the biological incompatibility of most of the polymers used in 3D printing. In typical use, a spool of polymer “ink” in the form of a long thread is fed through a 3D printer nozzle. Tiny dots of polymer are melted and laid down on a two dimensional surface and built up vertically until the piece being manufactured is complete.

Now according to Fierce Medical Devices, researchers at North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Laser Zentrum Hannover have used riboflavin as a nontoxic polymerization agent to 3D print structures that could one day become implantable medical devices.

While there is much more research and development to be done before this becomes a practical commercial technique, the technology is possible today. Next step is for a hungry startup or tech-savvy medical device company to commercialize this work. Perhaps when you have a surgery performed in 5-10 years, there will be a 3D printer in the next room churning out an implant “just for you.”

Takeaways: trends like mass customization and technologies like 3D printing are converging. Even in the relatively slow-moving healthcare industry with FDA regulation, there is a need for new, different, better ways of treating patients. 3D printed devices are yet another disruptive technology. At first, they will be crude and not very useful. As time goes on and the technologies evolve, however, they will have a significant effect.

Read more:

Study Finds Natural Compound Can Be Used for 3-D Printing of Medical Implants – FierceMedicalDevices.

Vitamin B2 may help build a safer 3-D medical implant – FierceMedicalDevices 

Knee Replacement, Knee Pain, Customized Knee | ConforMIS.

 Riboflavin – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

 

High tech medical device maker focuses on…China?

http://axialexchange.com/images/articles/Hypertension-Nutrition-Counseling.jpg
image via axialexchange.com

High blood pressure is a significant societal health problem all over the world. Kona Medical is trying to address the huge hypertension population with a noninvasive ultrasound device that might eliminate the need to take daily blood pressure medication. In a somewhat unorthodox move, the company is focusing initially on China.

 

Last year, Medtronic acquired Ardian, another startup that is focused on the same clinical condition. Ardian, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, was purchased for $800 million.

From axialexchange.com:

The statistics for hypertension are stunning. 30% of US adults have hypertension (high blood pressure). Another 30% of Americans are pre-hypertensive. Less than half of those people with hypertension have their condition under control.  A fifth don’t know they have it. The annual price tag for direct medical expenses related to high blood pressure is $131 billion. This is driven in part by the 55 million doctor visits that are prompted by high blood pressure. High blood pressure is present in most first heart attacks (69%), first strokes (77%), and in people with congestive heart failure (74%). High blood pressure was listed as a primary or contributing cause of death for about 348,000 Americans in 2008.

Recent medical research has shown that ablation (destruction) of the nerves around the renal arteries can reduce blood pressure in patients with hypertension. A number of medical device companies are racing to commercialize products based on their proprietary technologies in order to take a lead in this evolving market.

Ardian uses radio frequency ablation delivered via catheter to the area of the renal arteries. Kona is using focused external ultrasound to deliver the therapeutic energy – they are calling it “surround sound.” In a superficial assessment, it appears that Kona has the edge since their technology is completely noninvasive while the Ardian technology could at best be described as minimally invasive.

Of course, what should really matter is which technology works best with the fewest side effect, not how the therapy is delivered. The “best” technology doesn’t always prevail in the medical device industry, however. Sometimes first to market gets and keeps the largest share while in other situations the best marketing prevails.

Kona has previously raised $40 million in venture capital earlier this year and in 2012.

Kona’s latest announcement, to use a new investment of $10 million to launch their product in China, is somewhat confusing. Yes, there are vast numbers of people in China and untold numbers with hypertension. Most, however, probably do not have the type of health insurance that would pay for a high tech solution. In its press release, the company said that their therapy has the promise of being delivered in an outpatient setting. Outpatient hypertension therapy clinics – now that’s a disruptive concept!

China is not a traditional launch market for new medical devices. The company says that the latest investment, from a fund with deep ties to China, will be used exclusively to address the many clinical, regulatory, and intellectual property issues unique to China as a medical device market for Kona’s new therapy.

It will be interesting to see if Kona can successfully launch their product into the Chinese market while simultaneously commercializing for the traditional U.S. or E.U. markets without losing focus or depleting key resources.

Takeaways: Most companies commercializing novel medical devices pick a launch market and stick with it. There are any number of reasons to launch in the U.S. first. Other companies pick the European Union countries and some look to large, less regulated countries in South America.

While many development and commercialization tasks are the same no matter which initial market is selected, there are important differences. It’s usually best to choose the first, second, and perhaps third initial markets so that the launch components are not uniquely different and the company can use scarce resources for other commercialization tasks.

 Read more: Kona Medical raises $10M to reduce high blood pressure for people in China – GeekWire.

Kona Medical

Prosthetic Hands May Soon Gain the Sense of Touch

Someday in the not too distant future, amputees with prosthetic hands may gain the sense of touch.
image via discovery.com

This research being conducted at the University of Chicago could be a major advance in robotics and prosthetic technology. Amputees today have no way to “feel” their prosthesis except to watch it as it moves. Someday in the not too distant future, amputees with prosthetic hands may gain the sense of touch.

Using monkeys, the researchers first identified specific areas of the brain that corresponded with their fingers. Then the scientists connected electronic strain gages in the prosthetic hand to those specific areas in the brain. Using software, the scientists were able to successfully identify a “contact event” at the prosthetic hand from the monkey’s brain and to create a sense of pressure.

An important next step would be to control the prosthetic hand with the brain and to be able to apply force with feedback so the brain can sense what and with how much force the hand is touching.

The research work was partially funded by the U.S. government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA is well-known for sponsoring high risk, long term research activity. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in large numbers of U.S. military amputees, creating an ongoing and increasing need for improved prosthetic technologies.

Takeaways: There are non-obvious sources of funding early technology development work. DARPA is a great example but there are plenty of others. In the government, NIH, CDC, and NSF have ongoing research grant programs. There are other military programs as well, for example, TATRC. Yes, there is competition for these grant dollars so you need to make a strong case for the technology and the problems it solves. There is also the possibility that the researchers have no intention of commercializing their technology. In that case, it is possible for a company to license and commercialize the technology on its own.

        Read more: How to Give Prosthetic Hands Touch Sense : Discovery News.

Teeny Tiny Pacemaker Fits Inside the Heart | IEEE Spectrum

http://spectrum.ieee.org/img/rsz_image_nanostim-euro_size_comparison-2-1381851816207.jpg
image via IEEE Spectrum

This leadless pacemaker is incredible technology. Not only did the company, Nanostim, reduce the size of the pacemaker by about 90% but it eliminated the often troublesome leads that are required in traditional pacemakers.

 

 

The stealthy company, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, was recently acquired by St. Jude Medical for $123-200 million (depending on milestones).

The new pacemaker has received European regulatory clearance but not FDA approval yet although it has received an FDA Investigational Device Exemption (IDE). A pivotal clinical trial is expected to begin soon in the U.S. while sales will begin in selected European countries very soon.

The device, about as big as a AAA battery, is implanted directly into the interior of the right ventricle of the heart. Electrodes on the exterior of the pacemaker provide electrical stimulation to the heart muscle. The device is implanted via a catheter inserted in the femoral artery. Removal occurs via the same route, only in reverse. Battery life is 9-13 years. The device has wireless communication capability so it can be programmed remotely.

Given the negative publicity and adverse events involving pacemaker lead fractures over the past years, leadless pacemakers appear to be an idea whose time has arrived. Of course, the idea has occurred to more than one inventor.

Here’s Medtronic’s take on the concept:

http://www.qmed.com/files/ck_images/large_Medtronic_leadless%20pacemaker.jpgMedtronic’s product concept is much smaller than a penny. Medtronic announced the device three years ago and said it would take 3-5 years before beginning human implants. They also said that the product concept included the ability to be programmed via a smartphone application.

 

image via qmed.com

 

 

Critics have pointed out that the Nanostim product and Medtronic device concept provide only single chamber pacing and are not rate-responsive – the most basic form of pacemaker.

It seems to me that the Nanostim device is classic disruptive technology. It provides a single function compared to the elaborate features of traditional pacemakers. It’s probably priced at a fraction of the price of complex pacemakers. As with other disruptive technologies, competitors ignore new entrants with low cost/performance at their peril. Given sufficient demand, I’m sure clinicians and engineers will figure out ways to make these “simple” devices perform all the functions of their bigger, older “brothers”.

On the positive side, no surgery is needed for implantation – a big plus with patients. And there are no potentially problematic leads to route. Other benefits from the patient’s standpoint are no activity restrictions, no surgical “pocket” for potential infections and no telltale bulge of the device under the collarbone. This could be one of those disruptive technologies where patient demand changes market dynamics.

The implantable pacemaker/defibrillator market is large, with 4 million active implants and 700,000 new implants occurring each year worldwide.

Takeaways: A leadless pacemaker is an obvious innovation to anyone who has worked in the cardiac stimulation field. Nanostim took the concept and ran with it while Medtronic took its time with what might be a technically superior solution.

While achieving lasting market share is more important than being first to market, Nanostim may be able to achieve both. Because they negotiated a strategic partnership with St. Jude Medical while the device was still in development, the company gained access to substantial resources, enhanced its credibility, and was able to reduce risk for investors by showing a clear path to exit. Nanostim also pursued the faster CE marking before FDA approval so that it could start selling the device sooner.

Read more:

Teeny Tiny Pacemaker Fits Inside the Heart – IEEE Spectrum.

News Release | Investor Relations | St. Jude Medical.

Weighing the Benefits of Medtronic’s Leadless Pacemaker | Qmed.

Mobile Health: Red Hot Market Opportunity

http://images.businessweek.com/ss/10/08/0823_mhealth/image/01_intro.jpg
Image from Business Week

Call it mobile health, digital health, eHealth, or”Consumer Health Technology” as Forbes does. By any name the emerging market sector is expanding rapidly and attracting lots of attention, entrepreneurs, and investors.

As I’ve previously written, the time for mobile health has arrived. We carry in our pockets mobile devices with more computing power than the Apollo 11 astronauts had when they landed on the moon. The devices themselves are bristling with sensors and wireless radios. Typical smartphones have temperature sensors, accelerometers, gyros, GPS sensors, ambient light sensors, microphones, touch sensors, and high resolution still and video cameras. They can communicate via Bluetooth, NFC, WiFi, and a number of cellular communications protocols. On-board storage can hold thousands of books and dozens of movies. Connected cloud storage provides effectively infinite storage capacity.

Innovative engineers are responsible for an ongoing explosion of single and multi-purpose external, wearable sensors that communicate wirelessly with smartphones. Smartphone manufacturers are increasingly integrating fitness tracking capabilities into their devices. For example, Apple’s latest iPhone included the M7 chip that can track user activities while minimally affecting battery life.

Application developers are creating sophisticated fitness and health tracking software using the aforementioned technologies. Applications are increasingly passive rather than active, meaning the user does not need to enter data. The apps and sensors detect activities and are able to collect activity data in the background. Others are working to connect the consumer devices and sensors with electronic medical and health records “in the cloud” for a variety of purposes.

There are two main segments in mobile health, regulated and unregulated applications. In the near term, there is tremendous growth and potential in the unregulated space because it’s a quick way to get to market. The consumer markets are very large but price-sensitive.

Of course, your mobile health startup will not be alone when you get there. Big players are either already in the market or they are entering rapidly. Nike, Weight Watchers, Aetna, Garmin, Apple, Samsung, and others are already battling to be the mobile health brand of choice. There are new entrants as well. Jawbone, BodyMedia, FitLinxx, and Fitbit are relatively new companies with trendy, stylish wearable devices.

Huffington Post reported that Berg Insight said 8.3 million wearables were sold last year, up from only 3.1 million in 2011. By 2017, that number is set to reach 64 million. mobihealthnews projects 13 million fitness-related wearables will be purchased just for corporate wellness plans by 2018.

For FDA-regulated devices and applications, the initial market is smaller but the potential is just as great. Regulatory clearances and approvals provide some barriers to entry but will ultimately serve to give early market entrants a head start and not much more. These devices promise to do much more than fitness tracking. They have the potential to monitor chronic diseases and overall health, to provide alerts for significant health-related events, to collect data for clinician use, and to provide specific health-related guidance using user-specific data.

In addition to FDA scrutiny, another significant issue is compliance with HIPAA laws regarding patient privacy. With what amounts to 24×7 data collection and connectivity, there will be enormous amounts of user-specific data in devices and in cloud databases. Companies will have to address data security preemptively or risk losing user trust.

I believe the benefits to the user and to the healthcare system far outweigh the risks and costs associated with these devices and applications.

For healthy individuals, mobile health can provide real time feedback into activities, fitness levels, sleep patterns, even diet information like nutrient balance and calorie consumption.

For aging individuals or those with chronic diseases, mobile health can monitor vital signs, check disease-specific conditions, provide reminders to take medications or perform physical therapy exercises, and send updates and alerts to family members and physicians.

For physicians, mobile health can provide another way to communicate with patients and can also check compliance with recommendations and prescriptions.

For the healthcare system, mobile health can contribute to healthcare Big Data, making it easier for researchers, drug and device companies, and policy makers to track, measure, and assess the health and activities of large populations.

Takeaways: Mobile health is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for entrepreneurs. If you have an idea, now is the time to commercialize it. If you are a software developer, find hardware partners. Likewise, if you have developed a sensor, team up with app developers to make a complete package. If you have an unformed idea, try to shape it around mobile health. Investors have taken notice. Rock Health is soliciting applications for funding at a variety of levels.

Read more:

Thinking of Starting a Business? Check Out Consumer Health Technology | Inc.com.

13M wearables to be used in corporate wellness plans by 2018 | mobihealthnews.

How highly sensitive, wearable thermometers could change digital health | mobihealthnews.

What health startups think of Apple’s new motion tracking chip | mobihealthnews.

Moves comes to Android, not afraid of Apple’s M7 | mobihealthnews.

Healthcare Startups Can Save Lives — And Rake in Big Money | Wired Business | Wired.com.

8 healthcare applications for Microsoft Kinect, 6 reasons not to pursue them

Microhttp://dri2.img.digitalrivercontent.net/Storefront/Company/msintl/images/English/en-INTL_Kinect_for_Windows_L6M-00001/en-INTL_L_Kinect_for_Windows_L6M-00001_mnco.jpgsoft’s Kinect is absolutely amazing technology. And Microsoft keeps improving it. Did you know that Kinect has multiple potential healthcare applications?

If you have an early teenage or “tween” kid, you probably have an Xbox gaming system. The Kinect sensor technology is perfect for all sorts of innovative interfaces for dance, exercise, and role-playing games.

The Kinect sensors and software have the ability to perform skeletal mapping on multiple people simultaneously, to detect 3D gestures and motions and facial and voice recognition. Kinect can even determine users’ heart rates! The device also has the ability to “see” in the dark with infrared camera technology.

The Microsoft Kinect is an amazing amalgam of sensor technology. I’m sure it has many useful and possibly disruptive applications in healthcare and other industries.

Here’s why you should not base your healthcare product or application on Microsoft’s Kinect:

  1. Single sourcing is risky for any startup business or new product development organization. You have no alternative way to duplicate  or replicate the Kinect functions if Kinect or its key functions are unavailable for any reason.
  2. Healthcare is not Microsoft’s core business – it could remove access at any time and/or de-emphasize it in any number of ways. In fact, Microsoft is in strategic transition right now and its long-time CEO, Steve Ballmer, announced recently that he will be retiring in 2014.
  3. You have no access to the device’s source code – access to that code might be necessary if you are developing an FDA Class II or Class III device.
  4. The Microsoft Kinect is based on a console or PC-centric world view. What about tablets and smartphones? Oh, and don’t expect to ever see an Android or iOS device with Kinect capability.
  5. Although Microsoft has made an SDK available for Kinect development on Windows operating systems, the installed base of 24 million Kinects is almost all in Xbox gaming systems. Microsoft is not interested in giving up valuable real estate on its premier gaming platform to comparatively low volume and low margin healthcare apps. If you develop a Kinect-dependent windows app, you will a). have to wait for an installed base to develop or b). take on the added risk of marketing Kinect hardware to create your own installed base.
  6. You will have little technical support from Microsoft simply because your business potential is small compared to their other ventures.

If those six reasons aren’t enough to give you pause, here are the healthcare market areas identified by MobiHealthNews that are particularly suited for Kinect-enabled applications.

  1. Fitness and Exergaming – games and exercises to get people off the couch and on their feet
  2. Physical Therapy  – conduct PT sessions, monitor recovery
  3. Surgery Support  – hands-free image manipulation
  4. Autism Screening and Therapy – not quite sure what the advantage is here. Perhaps some on the spectrum can’t relate as well to people?
  5. Virtual Visits and Virtual Nurses – automated nursing visits. I think this is a bad idea, as senior shut-ins crave human contact.
  6. Virtual Group Therapy – avatar-based online group talk sessions (I believe you can do this with Google Hangouts as well)
  7. Aging in Place and Fall Prevention – gait analysis and fall prediction
  8. Helping the Blind to Navigate and the Deaf to Communicate – using machine vision and text to speech

Takeaways: It’s incredibly risky to develop new technology that’s based on someone else’s proprietary technology. It’s even more risky if that proprietary technology is primarily focused on non-healthcare applications.

You should consider open source projects as an alternative. There are many open source projects all over the world. If it’s critically important to you, try organizing and starting an open source project to support your development work.

If you must use the proprietary technology, try to negotiate a development agreement that places key parts of the technology in escrow so it is still available to you in the event of a default to the agreement. This tactic doesn’t work with gigantic corporations like Microsoft but it may be effective with smaller partners.

Read more: Eight ways the Microsoft Kinect will change healthcare | mobihealthnews.

New Medical Devices May Be Extremely Effective at Preventing HIV Infections

One new medical device is an intravaginal polymer ring impregnated with an antiretroviral drug, tenofovir. If successfully commercialized, this new technology that combines a medical device with a drug could have a major positive effect in preventing HIV infections and reducing HIV transmission rates in developing countries.

As the article poignantly states,

It’s often said that the HIV/AIDS epidemic has a woman’s face. The proportion of women infected with HIV has been on the rise for a decade; in sub-Saharan Africa, women constitute 60 percent of people living with disease. While preventative drugs exist, they have often proven ineffective, especially in light of financial and cultural barriers in developing nations.

The device, called a TDF-IVR (tenofovir disoproxil fumarate intravaginal ring) can be worn for up to 30 days. It delivers a constant dose of tenofovir, lower than the typical dose of the same drug taken orally. Delivery methods such as oral dosage and vaginal gels have not proven to be effective for a variety of reasons including inconvenience and cost.

The ring also has the capability to be impregnated with other drugs such as contraceptives and other antivirals to prevent non-HIV sexually transmitted infections.

Recently completed primate studies showed that the TDF-IVR was 100% effective in preventing HIV transmission in female macaque monkeys. A Phase I human clinical study is being planned for November in New York to assess safety and side effects.

The device was developed at Northwestern University with support from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

I’ve been working with a group of physicians and engineers at the University of Washington to develop a new medical device for adult male circumcision. Clinical studies sponsored by the World Health Organization demonstrated that circumcision can reduce a male’s risk of contracting HIV by as much as 75% – that’s about the same as a highly effective vaccine (which of course does not yet exist for HIV). Our device, called SimpleCirc, is designed to be used in low-resource settings by non-surgeon healthcare workers.

Perhaps the commercialization of these two technologies will begin to eradicate the scourge and epidemic of HIV/AIDS that is devastating sub-Saharan Africa.

Takeaways: When tackling an intractable problem, try different packaging or delivery concepts to address the issue. In the case of the drug-eluting ring, the drug was highly effective in other using other delivery techniques but cultural and logistical challenges limited overall effectiveness when delivered orally or as a single application gel.

In the case of the circumcision device, the design includes a kit with all materials and accessories to perform the procedure and the device itself is extremely simple, almost intuitive to use. In this way, the ability to perform circumcisions can be scaled up quickly and at low cost.

Read more: Study: New Medical Device Extremely Effective at Preventing Immunodeficiency Virus | News | McCormick School of Engineering | Northwestern University.

The world’s craziest toothbrush cleans your teeth in six seconds and is 3D printed | qz.com

Blizzident photo - world's craziest toothbrush
Blizzident photo – world’s craziest toothbrush

The Blizzident toothbrush may be the most innovative toothbrush ever developed. It is custom manufactured for each user and provides a complete teeth cleaning in 6 seconds. It even has the ability to floss between teeth and clean your tongue at the same time.

Blizzident took advantage of several technology trends in developing the Blizzident toothbrush. Mass customization, 3D scanning, and 3D printing enable the commercialization of a potentially disruptive product that would have been impossible or impractical to make only a few years ago.

Developed by an international team of dental experts, engineers, and computer scientists, the Blizzident toothbrush is commercially available today. Sold on the Blizzident website,   the device initial cost is $300. There is also a one-time expense of $75-200 for impressions and/or digitization of your teeth. According to Blizzident, the toothbrush will last twelve months. Replacements will cost $89 for refurbishment or $159 for an all-new device.

The Blizzident toothbrush can be fitted for kids, although a new scan is required each year because of the ongoing growth and changes in childrens’ teeth.

The toothbrush works by deploying hundreds of ultra-fine bristles that are angled to reach every nook and cranny of your teeth, including the all-important areas under the gumline. The user bites, chews, and grinds his/her teeth for six seconds, brushing all teeth and surfaces simultaneously. According to the company, that’s the equivalent of a three minute manual toothbrushing session. Clinical study results are promised but not yet available.

I have a dental checkup next week and I plan to ask my dentist what he thinks of this revolutionary technology. The somewhat steep price tag may discourage many people but it will probably decline over time. I’m sure there are sufficient numbers of people who are either gadget freaks or just really care about their teeth to make an initial market. It will be interesting to see how Blizzident’s awareness spreads. The story is compelling for both traditional media and for social media.

Takeaways: Who would have thought that the humble toothbrush could be improved upon “again”? A Seattle area company, Optiva, successfully innovated Sonicare, a “next generation” electric toothbrush back in the 1990s. Optiva was acquired by Philips Healthcare in 2000. In 2001, Sonicare was the best-selling electric toothbrush brand in the USA.

For startups, no idea should be considered too small to commercialize. Likewise, no existing product or technology should be thought of as too established to be improved upon. Mass customization is a compelling trend – people want things that uniquely fit them. 3D scanning and printing are powerful tools that make disruptive innovations and novel business models possible.

Read more: http://qz.com/129919/the-worlds-craziest-toothbrush-cleans-your-teeth-in-six-seconds-and-is-3d-printed/

http://www.blizzident.com/

Wireless sensors are the missing link in mobile health applications

Scanadu Scout sensorWireless sensors are an evolving missing link and a gigantic opportunity in mobile health application development and commercialization.

Markets for mobile health are developing rapidly. Personal fitness, quantified self, chronic disease monitoring, elder health monitoring, infant monitoring, acute symptom diagnosis, physical therapy, and telemedicine are a few of the segments in mobile health.

We have fast networks that cover almost all of our population in the U. S. and most developed countries. Smartphones are powerful mobile computers with vast amounts of onboard computing power and storage. If the smartphone’s capabilities are insufficient, developers can access cloud-based storage, databases, and distributed computing that can scale to address any size problem.

Because all of this technology has been developed for mass consumer markets (and because of Moore’s law), it is inexpensive – orders of magnitude less costly than a few years ago.

So we have cheap, powerful, ubiquitous computing and connectivity mostly being used for social connectivity and YouTube video watching. This powerful computer network is also increasingly being used to improve healthcare diagnosis and delivery.

Still being developed are wireless sensors to take advantage of all of that computing power. There are a number of companies pursuing commercialization of sensors and apps to enable all sorts of mobile health capabilities and functions.

Some of the sensor technologies are wearable in clothing or on the skin, some are implantable, and others are ingestible. All use low power wireless communications technology such as Bluetooth Low Energy for continuous or periodic monitoring. The first generation of sensors, like Holter monitors, recorded data for a time period and were sent to a lab for processing so a report could be generated for a physician. The new generation of sensors records continuously and sends the data in real time where a physician or even the patient can access data that has been processed by a smart application.

Physicians are beginning to be able to monitor their patients with chronic diseases in real time. Individuals active in the “quantified self” movement have more personal data than ever with which to monitor and analyze themselves. Physicians can prescribe personal diagnostics to collect data in order to make a more accurate diagnosis.

For example, Given Imaging of Israel has developed a capsule that has video recording and radio transmission capabilities. The capsule is swallowed by the patient. It then records and transmits its journey through the patient’s digestive tract. The video is reviewed by the physician to determine a preliminary diagnosis and the need for more invasive interventions like surgery.

For the Star Trek fan, Scanadu is developing a crude “tricorder”  – a disk of sensors that is placed on the forehead to measure temperature, heart and respiration rate, blood pressure, and more. The Scanadu Scout is intended for consumers, not physicians.

According to Medical Device and Diagnostics Industry, Pathfinder Software, a mobile and wireless application developer, has created a clever infographic showing various sensors and the body functions they are intended to monitor.

The sensors shown on the infographic are a mere subset of what’s currently available and in development. For example, a startup in my home city of Redmond, Washington, Heapsylon has developed sensors for “smart socks” that can measure a variety of parameters related to running gait to improve athletic performance and prevent injury.

Takeaways: There are opportunities for novel sensors to monitor and measure all sorts of body functions and parameters. There are opportunities to develop applications that gather, process and interpret sensor data for consumers and for healthcare professionals. There are opportunities to analyze aggregated sensor data to assess population health and trends. Finally, there are opportunities to develop and deploy solutions that bring low cost healthcare to underserved populations.

Read more: How Innovations Using Sensors Can Disrupt Healthcare (infographic) | MDDI Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry News Products and Suppliers.

Disruptive Innovation Opportunities Created By Obamacare

Rather than debate endlessly about whether the Affordable Care Act is good or bad, staff at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation has analyzed Obamacare for entrepreneurial opportunities created by disruptive innovations in the law.

Clayton Christensen is a Harvard Business School Professor and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma (and a few more books about innovation since that business best-seller).

According to the authors, these new provisions of Obamacare are disruptive innovations:

  • Individual Mandate – adds tens of millions of new individuals to the primary care healthcare system.
  • Employer Mandate – will drive demand for new, less costly models of health insurance.
  • Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) – provides incentives to providers to keep patients healthy rather than just paying for treatment of illnesses.
  • Wellness Programs – requires health plans to offer new preventive and self-directed care options.
  • CMS Innovation Center – an entity created outside of Medicare and Medicaid with responsibility for developing novel payment and healthcare delivery models.

 The ACA is not perfect by any means. It is also not perfect in the estimation of the Christensen Institute. Here are a few provisions of the Affordable Care Act that are likely to inhibit disruptive innovation:

  • Essential Health Benefits – mandated levels of coverage that may exceed user needs and will make it difficult to introduce low-end disruptive plans.
  • Insurance Exchanges – online marketplaces that will enable comparison shopping, but only among qualified plans, excluding some new and potentially innovative options.
  • Cost-Sharing – government subsidies will drive consumers into Silver-level plans, limiting demand once again for Bronze-level or even lower (and less costly) plans.
  • Medical Loss Ratio – requiring insurers to justify all rate increases and to spend a minimum of 80% of premiums on healthcare creates barriers to entry for new and disruptive market entrants with low or no subscriber populations.
  • Medicaid Expansion – enrolling patients with minimal or zero previous healthcare coverage into Bronze or even Silver-level plans eliminates a market that could be served by disruptive new entrants with innovative healthcare models. Instead, these patients will be driven to traditional insurers.

As noted by many people, including President Obama, the ACA does not have the ability to transform healthcare on its own. Rather, it is intended to provide incentives and opportunities for innovation in order to make healthcare more efficient, more affordable, and more accessible. In the words of the President, “We want to bend the cost curve.” The opportunities to help in and profit from the bending are present for existing players and for new market entrants.

In the framework established by Prof. Christensen, it is the new entrant that is usually disruptive because the established competitors have little incentive to innovate or to change their business models. It is also impossible for the new entrants to gain market share using the existing business models so they are forced to develop and deploy disruptive innovations.

I don’t expect the full effects of Obamacare to be evident for years, although we should see small improvements (and to be sure, some startup problems) almost immediately. There will no doubt be modifications and delays to the regulations and to implementation. It is to be hoped that some of those changes will be favorable to more, rather than less, disruptive innovation.

Takeaways: With change comes opportunity. The ACA may not be hugely popular (especially among medical device companies paying the 2.3% excise tax). Obamacare is, however, somewhat disruptive and creates new opportunities for healthcare companies.

Read more: Seize the ACA:The Innovator’s Guide to the Affordable Care Act | Christensen Institute.

Powerful Free 3D CAD Software: DesignSpark Mechanical

I’ve bought a few things from Allied Electronics and, of course, got on their email list. It’s usually an interesting email but not very relevant to me. Today, however, I received an email from Allied about DesignSpark Mechanical. DesignSpark Mechanical is a fully featured 3D design and CAD software application for Windows PCs and it’s 100% free.

Model and software from DesignSpark Mechanical websiteYou do need to register and provide contact information but after that, you get a rather large download – 500+ MB for the 64 bit version – and the program runs with all features and no restrictions – WOW!

I’ve downloaded and used Google’s Sketchup software. The free version is very limited in features and they charge $590 for their fully featured Pro version.

From the DesignSpark Mechanical website:

DesignSpark Mechanical is packed with time-saving features to help you design more easily, quickly and creatively than ever before.

  • Produce highly detailed dimensioned worksheets
  • Remove bottlenecks by making amendments and additions to your design in seconds, rather than waiting for the CAD department to rework in history-based CAD tools
  • Combine your creation with off-the-shelf components from RS Components and the Allied Electronics 3D library
  • Create geometry easily with powerful and intuitive gesture-based modelling, no need to be a CAD expert
  • And best of all, it’s completely free! This is not a cut down version of an expensive product or software with a time-limited license.

The software is extremely easy to use, almost intuitive. There are lots of hints and tips included with the various commands and options. The web page for the software contains a number of tutorials, both text and video, for beginners who want to master the software.

One of the most powerful features is the ability to import components from both RS Components and  Allied Electronics. These are dimensionally accurate. The program automatically generates a bill of materials and even estimates the cost of the project.

Another very cool feature is the ability to save directly to a 3D printer format, in an STL file. You could make a design, send the STL file to your favorite 3D printer shop and have a physical prototype the next day!

I’m sure the software is not as powerful as commercial CAD packages. For example, rendering 3D models is not offered. But it looks like it can do the job of creating 3D designs…and it’s free.

Takeaways: 3D CAD software once cost tens of thousands of dollars, then thousands of dollars, then hundreds of dollars, and now it’s free. Not only free, but designed so well that anyone with a slight bit of mechanical ability can learn it and use it. The companies involved are clever to include their 3D libraries of components. It’s a good bet that if you design with them, you will specify them and buy their components. Not a bad competitive advantage for companies in a commodity business like electronic components.

For resource-poor medical device startups, this free software is a huge benefit. The ability to create accurate and convincing prototypes using 3D printing has never been easier or faster. Now you can add 3D design to those fast, inexpensive capabilities. With DesignSpark Mechanical, anyone can do rapid prototyping very inexpensively and produce high quality designs and models.

Read more/Download the software: DesignSpark Mechanical » DesignSpark.

Experts apparently agree: Fitness wearables are now a fashion statement | mobihealthnews

I was walking through the South Lake Union area of Seattle this morning and was struck by how many people had their trusty smartphone in their hands and were reading or interacting with it as they were walking. That was not the case as recently as ten years ago, perhaps even more recently.

So smartphones have become fashion accessories as well as constant companions . You can quickly tell the iPhone devotees from the Android “big screen” fans from the Windows Phone diehards who keep insisting that their phones’ technical specs are better. And it’s almost too easy to get into an argument about which company makes the “best” mobile operating system or phone.

Nike FuelBand

Here’s one of the Next Big Things in consumer technology: fitness wearables as fashion statement. The devices themselves are distinctive in appearance and they are fairly expensive. They monitor activity and exercise levels and provide useful information to the user.

For example, a device may count your footsteps (remember, 10,000 steps a day is The Goal!), measure the distance you run or bike, monitor your sleep patterns, keep track of the number of calories you ingest and expend, and generally automate and simplify tasks that were difficult if not impossible to perform before we all had these amazing devices at our fingertips every waking hour of our day.

Every device is different in its features and functions. The manufacturers take great care in developing the look and feel of the devices since each device is a walking advertisement for the product.

I have a hunch, however, that the people who least need fitness monitoring devices are the ones who use them the most. Of course, no one really needs these devices. But trendy people like to show off their trendy toys, like the Nike Fuelband, FitBit Flex, and Jawbone Up.

One development I’m waiting for is to see if ordinary people, overweight couch potatoes and the like, start wearing and using the same devices. Perhaps they will start by emulating their favorite celebrity and then discover the utility in these devices. Perhaps people will use the devices to monitor their health and improve their fitness.

As the devices get more sophisticated and adopted by more people, I hope the manufacturers will include more ways for people to monitor and improve their health. For example, I read an article In a recent edition of Runner’s World about sitting and why it’s one of the biggest health hazards most people do voluntarily. Not even elite runners are immune from the ill effects of being a couch potato when they are not running. Just think of how beneficial a sitting monitor app would be to our increasingly sedentary population!

I expect the next generation of fitness wearables to include Smart Watches that will have a limited ability to run apps and receive input from body sensors. When you see A-list celebrities sporting those and other devices on TV shows and movies, you’ll know the next big fad is being born.

Takeaways: Popular culture is infatuated with mobile technology. Mobile device adoption is well into the 90% range in a number of demographic segments. Fitness wearables could experience the same sort of growth and adoption, especially if led by celebrities. Apps and sensors for these devices could be good businesses in which to invest. Another huge benefit could be a positive effect on public health.

Read more: Experts apparently agree: Fitness wearables are now a fashion statement | mobihealthnews.

Give Us Our Damn Lab Results!! (etc.) | The Health Care Blog

Patients are empowering themselves. We are overwhelmingly using Internet sites like WebMD and social media to research and discuss symptoms, diseases, and treatments. We are purchasing and using digital health devices and software by the millions.

Now patients are starting to demand direct delivery of lab test results instead of waiting for that call from the doctor’s office that always seems to be delayed or worse, never made.

A little-known proposed regulation issued in 2011 by the Department of Health and Human Services would allow lab test providers to send test results directly to patients. While a final regulation has not been issued, perhaps due to the current political climate in Washington, the regulation is being welcomed by patient advocates and viewed with skepticism by some physicians.

As the article states,

Increasing the ability of patients to have direct access to all their medical information allows patients to more effectively manage their own health care and organize electronic copies of their own data – a major benefit of the health care system’s ongoing transition to digital records…Most broadly, this expanded access gives patients the ability to be as engaged as they choose in their own health and care.

Some unenlightened physicians are lamenting the perceived loss of control and cite the risks involved when patients have uninformed access to clinical data. Other doctors welcome the opportunity to stay in the loop while patients take more responsibility for their own healthcare and data.

Again, from the article:

… A 2009 study published in the Archive of Internal Medicine indicated that providers failed to notify patients (or document notification) of abnormal test results more than 7 percent of the time. The National Coordinator for Health IT recently put the figure at 20 percent.  This failure rate is dangerous, as it could lead to more medical errors and missed opportunities for valuable early treatment.

How can sending lab test results directly to patients be a bad thing if the doctor still receives a copy of the results and continues the practices of alerting patients to abnormal results while offering to interpret the data?

In another empowering development, some patients are now able to skip the dreaded visit image from geekwire.comto the primary care physician, the one where they wait, wait, and wait some more while being exposed to who knows what communicable diseases in the practice’s waiting room. People in the south Puget Sound region of Washington in the Franciscan Health System service area have the ability to have a virtual visit with a physician 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a reasonable $35 fee (not paid by insurance). The consultation may result in a referral to a physical facility or prescribing of medications. How convenient!

From the article:

“In some cases, patients just want to know if they need to go to the emergency room,” said Dr. Ben Green of Franciscan Virtual Urgent Care. “In fact, most of the time our providers are able to keep them out of the emergency room and patients are quite happy about that.”

The virtual visit with a real doctor is conducted via Skype video teleconferencing or by plain old-fashioned telephone.

The telemedicine service is actually offered by Carena, a Seattle-based company, in partnership with Franciscan. Carena started offering the service in 2010 to private companies and is now expanding to healthcare systems.

Takeaways: Empowered patients and consumers represent an enormous opportunity for medical device and digital health companies. The pharmaceutical industry proved the viability and profitability of direct-to-consumer marketing in the 1990s.

As more patients are comfortable managing their own electronic health records and in keeping their records “in the cloud,” there will be increasing demand for apps, software, and web services to facilitate and secure those transactions and records. The market niche of people who self-monitor their health, fitness, and vital signs with digital health devices and apps will steadily increase as the devices and software get more capable and easier to use.

Read more:

Give Us Our Damn Lab Results!! | The Health Care Blog.

Feeling sick? Washington health system now offers virtual doctor appointments for $35 – GeekWire.

Smart Spoon, New Apps Help People with Parkinson’s, Essential Tremors | Medgadget

Who would have expected the development of a Smart Spoon? The founders of Lift Labs, a San Francisco technology company, that’s who.

I like this device because it builds on existing technology – the same type of technology that enables cardiovascular surgeons to perform intricate bypass surgery on beating hearts.

The developers and engineers applied their technology to a completely different use, interpreting and negating the arm and hand tremors caused by Parkinson’s Disease and the neurological disorder Essential Tremor. Next, the developers identified a problematic function associated with the tremors: eating! They then used their Liftware Active Cancellation of Tremor technology to control a spoon with a built-in electromechanical actuator that cancels out the tremors, enabling the user to eat unassisted.

I expect this device to get a lot of attention from Parkinson’s and Essential Tremor patients and their families. The patients can eat unassisted (what adult wants to be spoon fed?) and maintain their dignity.

The company promises other attachments beyond the spoon. It will be interesting to see what they develop for an encore – a writing pen? A Smart Stylus to control a tablet or a smartphone? How about a Smart Mug? The company also has a free smartphone app using their Active Cancellation of Tremor technology to provide cadence guidance for walking to prevent shuffling.

Lift Labs has developed another (free) smartphone app, Lift Pulse 2.0, that collects user data from queries (stress level, medications, sleep, exercise) and couples that with tremor information imputed from the phone’s accelerometer. The results are displayed to the user and stored in a journal but also sent after anonymizing to a company database where it can be analyzed using Big Data.

Although these are not medical devices per se, they have the potential to provide enormous relief to many people suffering from the symptoms of these debilitating diseases.

Takeaways: Building on innovations from unrelated markets is a great way to achieve instant traction in a startup or on a product development project with a tight budget. Obviously, it pays to engage a patent attorney to determine if you have a non-infringing use. If the new market is sufficiently noncompetitive with the existing market you may be able to negotiate a reasonable royalty fee or rate. Finally, identify the segment and application with the largest unmet need and you just might be on the verge of a disruptive innovation. I’m sure the Parkinson’s sufferers being spoonfed or using sippy cups and the like would agree.

Read more: Smart Spoon, New Apps Help People with Parkinson’s, Essential Tremors | Medgadget

Lift Labs

Wow of the Week: A flu vaccination you could give yourself, with no shots involved | MedCity News

Very cool, and a great use of microfabrication technology. This microneedle array delivers its vaccine payload painlessly into the skin and the needles dissolve. Perhaps your healthcare insurer will mail your vaccine to you in the not too distant future.

The microneedle array (still in the animal research phase) could be an important tool for vaccine delivery in developing countries where vaccine doses must be transported to remote populations and refrigeration equipment is not readily available. And perhaps it will increase the participation in flu and other vaccine programs by people who have needle and/or pain phobias.

I’m aware of at least one other company commercializing a microneedle-based medical product. The startup company is Kitotech, based in Seattle, and they have developed a product called Kitostitch. The Kitostitch product is intended to replace steri-strips for primary wound closure. The value proposition is a little less clear in that case. In my experience, it’s tough to oust incumbent technology even if it’s mediocre, when there’s no nagging problem being solved.

Takeaways: There are plenty of unsolved medical problems, some big and some small, that can benefit from smart innovation. The technology of vaccine injection would seem to have been perfected or at least exhausted of innovation but these researchers created a completely new inoculation technology. Complacency is the enemy of innovation. Do not ever assume that a “better mousetrap” cannot be designed for a particular need. Most important is that you keep looking for unsolved problems and unmet needs.

Read more: Wow of the Week: A flu vaccination you could give yourself, with no shots involved | MedCity News.

Digital health needs more physician entrepreneurs | mobihealthnews

Are you aware of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (SOPE)? I was not. The CEO of SOPE, Dr. Arlen D. Meyers, a practicing ENT surgeon, says that doctors are not trained in business while in medical school or residency. That has certainly been my experience.

While many physicians have an entrepreneurial mindset, only a few I’ve met and worked with have business skills that would enable them to start and/or run a company. Some are just natural entrepreneurs although I think there are far more who believe they have business acumen but don’t have any or don’t have much business savvy. Those doctors are the toughest to work with as a medical device commercialization executive.

To address part of the problem, Dr. Meyers has created a certificate program in bioinnovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado. The program is intended for postdoctoral students not interested in a career in academia.

Dr. Meyers also said, “most innovation in healthcare and medicine leaves out doctors and patients, particularly in the lucrative fields of drug and medical device development.” I’m not sure exactly what he’s driving at here. Most device companies, startups included, are happy to work with innovators or key opinion leader physicians to help create, develop, refine, and commercialize new products. They are well-compensated for commercial successes, much less so for market flops, of course. And patients are a necessary part of the process.

Medical device commercialization is not for amateurs and it’s not a part-time gig. Most physicians are incredibly busy people. It seems to me their natural role in a startup or on a new product development project in a larger company is to serve as a clinical/healthcare system resource, product endorser, and source of referrals. Of course, they are free to try their hand at business and create their own startups.

Dr. Meyers also points out that the burgeoning digital health segment is underrepresented by physicians. That may be because the technology, networking, and systems interoperability dimensions of digital health solutions and products tend to be far outside most physicians’ areas of expertise. However, there are multiple opportunities for doctors to innovate. For example, their detailed knowledge of the healthcare delivery system may have given them specific ideas about how to improve patient care delivery with apps. He also believes that non-face to face care using telehealth or digital health products and apps is going to be a substantial opportunity for entrepreneurs, whether physician or layman. Any of those ideas could be the basis of a digital health startup.

Takeaways: Medical device and digital health startups, even with their high failure rates, are attractive to at least some physicians – those with entrepreneurial mindsets. Startup founders and CEOs should identify and recruit like-minded doctors for their executive teams, boards of directors and advisory boards. If you are a digital health startup CEO with a tech/IT background, you can minimize the risk of making bad or just uninformed product decisions and enhance your commercial products by finding and engaging with an entrepreneurial physician.

Read more: Digital health needs more physician entrepreneurs | mobihealthnews.

mHealth, eHealth, Mobile Health, Connected Health: Not Fads, Not Going Away

Smartphones can be addictive. The convenience of obtaining information and maintaining social connections is a powerful benefit for just about everyone. Health-related smartphone apps have the potential to use that addictive property to inform and improve the health of smartphone owners.

Close to 60% of all adults in the U.S. use a smartphone. The proportion approaches 100% in well-educated, affluent, young-to-middle-aged, or urban/suburban demographic groups. Using “diffusion of innovation” terms, smartphone adoption has penetrated past the Early Majority and is deep into the Late Majority. That’s more than enough for a startup to base its technology platform on.

There are more than 40,000 smartphone apps focused on mobile health, growing each day. Many savvy entrepreneurs have identified mobile health as a Next Big Thing and are trying to stake out their territory during this “wild West” phase of the mobile health market.

According to an executive at Qualcomm, the exponential growth in mobile or connected health is being driven by two factors. The user experiences are getting better all the time and there is real opportunity for cost control at the provider level. App usage is growing even among clinicians: 34% of clinicians reports using apps to monitor data from medical devices now, up significantly from the 27% who reported doing so in 2012.

Of course, things like user interfaces and app features can make a huge difference in adoption and patient satisfaction. One recent study of diabetes patients showed that patients with passive monitoring and reporting apps on their smartphones to manage glucose levels had better adherence to their glucose management plans and also had better health outcomes than patients who used apps requiring manual intervention.

According to a Brookings Institution study, remote monitoring technologies could save $197 billion in the U.S. over the next 25 years. And adoption is spreading rapidly. For example, 45% of physicians report using mobile apps for data collection at the bedside compared to 30% in 2012. More than 70% of providers use mobile devices to access patient Electronic Medical Records (EMRs). Physicians are eager adopters of mobile devices with more than 66% reporting use of tablets in their professional practices.

Joseph Kvedar, MD in an article on The Health Care Blog, writes:

Mobile health offers us many transformational opportunities.  We can use smart phones as a data upload/home hub device.  We can use them as a device to engage the consumer around health content.  We can use them to display health-related information at  just the right moment in just the right context.  We can use the cameras to capture relevant health information (e.g., home test results).  We can use them to message you in the moment with contextually relevant, motivating messages.

Add to the list that we can harness the addictive properties of these devices to, perhaps, make health addictive.

Takeaways: The market opportunity for mobile health is here and now. Devices, sensors, networks, software, and connectivity have never been better, cheaper, or easier to access. Patients and providers have adopted mobile technologies in huge numbers. Yes, there is plenty of competition but there are rewards for any startup or company that can identify a market niche, develop a solution, and deploy a product that meets user expectations while maintaining a long term strategy of reducing costs and improving clinical outcomes.

Read more:

Why mHealth is not a fad but is here to stay (infographic) | MDDI Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry News Products and Suppliers.

Could Mobile Health Become Addictive? | The Health Care Blog.

The Perils of eHealth | MDDI Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry News Products and Suppliers.

Robotic Surgery: Too Much, Too Soon? | medscape.com

With a market capitalization of more than $15 billion, Intuitive Surgical is a major player in the medical device industry. It is also the only source in the world for robotic-assisted surgery products. An evolving controversy is whether the patient benefit from a robot-assisted procedure is equal or greater than the additional cost to the healthcare system.

Robot

In recent articles, the editors at Medscape (a physician-oriented professional website owned by WebMD) have raised the issue of whether robotic-assisted surgery is being adopted too fast and being promoted too aggressively.

 

Some facts:

  • The number of procedures performed worldwide with Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci Surgical System increased 25% from 2011 to 2012, to 450,000. 
  • The da Vinci Surgical System has been installed at more than 2,000 hospitals around the world at a cost per installation of $1.5-2.2 million plus annual service fees of about $160,000.
  • Intuitive Surgical has about 2,400 employees and had 2012 revenues of $2.18 billion, $908k per employee. That’s getting close to the almost mythical $1 million per employee revenue level and in the same neighborhood as Google ($931k).
  • The price for proprietary disposable instruments for the da Vinci System is $600-1,000. Each procedure uses 3-8 instruments.
  • A recent analysis reported that da Vinci surgeries add costs of 20% per procedure on average. The incremental costs are currently absorbed by hospitals because reimbursement rates are set by procedure, not surgical technique or technology. It is not yet clear if the extra costs will eventually be reimbursed by insurers.
  • Earlier this year, the president of the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), issued a statement recommending against using robotic devices in routine gynecologic procedures – perhaps motivated by a 2013 JAMA study reporting that the percentage of robotically assisted hysterectomies increased from 0.5% in 2007 to 9.5% in 2010. Studies have shown that use of robotics has no clear clinical benefit over laparoscopy (the gold standard). Additionally, costs for robotically assisted hysterectomy were reported in the JAMA study to be $2189 more per case than for laparoscopic hysterectomy.
  • Some hospitals appear to be hyping and/or aggressively marketing their robotic capabilities. Investigators reported In a 2011 study that 41% of hospital websites promoted their robotic surgery capabilities and that clinical superiority was claimed on 86% of these sites, while none mentioned risks.
  • Just as with any new technology, there is a learning curve when adopting robotic-assisted surgery technology. During the learning curve, risks are higher.

Some opinions:

  • Intuitive Surgical has done a brilliant job in developing and marketing its da Vinci System, perhaps too good. The company shipped its first commercial system in 2000 and has averaged 25% annual growth ever since. The low-hanging fruit may be gone.
  • Whether deliberate or accidental, Intuitive has created the perception among the public that robotic-assisted surgery is “better” than alternative approaches. This creates demand for the procedures and indirectly, demand for Intuitive’s products.
  • There are few, if any, randomized clinical studies demonstrating a significant clinical benefit of robotic-assisted surgery over the gold standard technique, either open surgery or laparoscopic surgery. There are a few studies indicating limited advantages in outcomes in very specialized indications and a few others that show perioperative benefits such as reduced need for transfusion.
  • Some hospitals have irresponsibly hyped the benefits of robotic-assisted surgery to patients. Perhaps this is in response to competition and perhaps partly to attract patients in order to justify the large investments in robotic equipment and training.
  • Some surgeons are aggressively adopting the new technology even where there is no clinical advantage or indication. Perhaps they fear losing the revenue stream from patients or the patient stream from referring physicians.
  • The winds of change (healthcare reform in Obamacare, negative publicity about complications and costs) are starting to blow. Intuitive’s share price is down more than 34% from its peak value reached in February 2013.

Takeaways: There is a fine line between aggressive promotion and hype. In this case, the urgency and greed triggered by the “robotic gold rush” may have caused the hype line to be crossed by more than one party. Few healthcare companies conduct randomized clinical trials unless required by regulatory bodies or customers. Given the changes occurring in healthcare today, it is prudent to include outcomes and clinical studies in your commercialization plans. If your technology or product is radically different from the gold standard, you must seriously consider learning curve effects as part of market adoption. Basic training, advanced training, certification, proctoring, and partnering with professional organizations are all options when introducing new technologies.

Read more: Robotic Surgery: Too Much, Too Soon?.

A Twenty-Year Snapshot of the Health of the American People | JAMA

Fascinating glimpse into the state of our health in the U.S. and how it changed over a period of twenty years from 1990-2010.

This is a “glass half-full/glass half-empty” story. If you are in the healthcare industry, it seems that there is going to be a limitless supply of patients with chronic medical conditions for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, if you are a typical American or if you have some responsibility for public health, there is much to be concerned about. We’re spending more than ever and more than everyone else on healthcare. Although the overall health of our nation’s citizens is improving, it’s not improving as much as other wealthy countries (which are spending far, far less on healthcare).

A few examples from the abstract:

  • Ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and road injury were the most prevalent lethal conditions in terms of sheer numbers and were responsible for the most years of life lost (YLL) due to premature mortality.
  • Alzheimer’s disease, drug use disorders, chronic kidney disease, kidney cancer, and falls are increasing in incidence rates most rapidly on an age-adjusted basis.
  • Low back pain, major depressive disorder, other musculoskeletal disorders, neck pain, and anxiety disorders represented the conditions with the largest number of years lived with disability (YLD) in 2010.
  • While we are living longer, we’re living with disabilities. As the US population has aged, years lived with disability are growing faster than years of life lost overall.
  • Our lifestyle choices are disabling and killing us. Poor diet, tobacco smoking, high body mass index, high blood pressure, high fasting plasma glucose (pre-diabetes), physical inactivity, and alcohol use were the leading risk factors in disability and premature death combined.
  • Chronic disease and chronic disability now account for close to half of the US health burden.
  • We’re losing ground to our peer countries:

Among 34 OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries between 1990 and 2010, the US rank for the age-standardized death rate changed from 18th to 27th, for the age-standardized YLL rate from 23rd to 28th, for the age-standardized YLD rate from 5th to 6th, for life expectancy at birth from 20th to 27th, and for [healthy life expectancy] HALE from 14th to 26th.

No matter what you may think of Obamacare, single payer healthcare, or market-based solutions, these facts clearly show that we as a nation are not getting any “bang for our healthcare buck.” I don’t think that anyone believes we can spend our way out of this dilemma.

Takeaways: There is more data available than ever before to analyze health trends. There is an enormous interest in new technologies and methodologies that can improve a patient’s health without increasing costs. There are any number of clinical conditions upon which a startup could focus and have a significant effect on our healthcare system. Disease prevention and lifestyle modification look to be areas of focus and rapid growth. As you develop your latest medical device or as you plan your medtech startup, keep the big picture in mind. Show that your device or technology will not only work better than alternatives but that it will demonstrably improve patient health and save money.

Read more: JAMA Network | JAMA | The State of US Health, 1990-2010:  Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors.

Obamacare is Changing Market Access | MDDI Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry News

Access to the healthcare market is changing for medical device companies, particularly for startups with new technologies and no track record. It’s not clear to me if Obamacare is really the driver or if it’s the larger initiative of “healthcare reform” that’s causing providers and payers to make changes in the way they do business.

In any event, providers such as hospitals have become more demanding of new products and new companies. They want to see evidence of clinical efficacy as well as evidence of economic efficacy (outcomes) before they agree to purchase or in some cases, trial the products. Importantly, payers – private insurers and Medicare – are slowing, reducing, or even denying reimbursement for new products and procedures. The outcomes data is being called comparative effectiveness research. Most current data supplied by industry has been deemed insufficient. Evidence of the increased demand for data is the current emphasis on and support of healthcare IT applications by government entities as well as payers.

The authors of this article argue that responsibility for market access must be broadened to become an integral part of the commercialization process like regulatory clearance and that it should be applied to a broad cross-section of the organization and also throughout the product life cycle. This is a major change in the way that most companies conduct product development and commercialization. It will require executive management involvement and changes to strategic goals and plans to implement and sustain such a change.

For example, it is in the best interests of the organization to create and provide “strong evidence of clinical differentiation.” Not only will the evidence make it easier to get agreement from providers and payers, it also provides a degree of protection against premature commoditization. It’s equally important to lobby government officials, either directly or through a trade group. Finally the organization must be sure to protect itself by retroactively addressing products already in the market, as a demand for data could come at any time and cause significant disruptions to manufacturing, sales, materials management, etc.

Takeaways: Startup CEOs and medical device product managers, project managers, and program managers must incorporate comparative effectiveness research for both clinical efficacy and economic effectiveness into their strategic plans, product development plans, and go-to-market plans. Without outcomes data to demonstrate economic and clinical value (ECV), the risk of a failure at product launch because there are no willing buyers for your product is very high. This can kill a company or a career.

Read more: Obamacare is Changing Market Access | MDDI Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry News

How a cotton candy machine gave this NSF-funded, Indiana-based wound-healing startup its first big idea | MedCity News

If you’re interested in startups, here is a story about how one current medical device startup formed. There’s probably not a typical path for startups to follow but many do form to address one issue and ultimately become something very different.

The trendy term for this in Silicon Valley these days is “pivoting.” That’s when you fail at one thing and then figure out something else to do using your existing assets. It also goes by the phrase, “fail fast, fail cheap, and fail often.” Of course, if all you do is fail, you will never get anywhere! The methodology requires that you learn from each mistake and apply what was learned to the next project. You do need to show traction and progress before your investors and stakeholders run out of patience.

The startup in the article, Medtric, envisioned a fibrous wound dressing spun on site in a process similar to how cotton candy is formed. They failed, perhaps because they focused on a process instead of the problem. They learned from their mistake, however, and developed a nanotechnology-based dressing in their second attempt. That product along with a third seem to have tangible clinical benefits. It also helps that the products are simple and relatively inexpensive. Those attributes help attract investors. The company has received extensive grant funding and angel funding and is planning to commercialize its products in the next year.

Takeaways: Ideas for new products can come from anywhere, even cotton candy machines. What’s more important is to have a deep understanding of the problem you want to solve and the benefits your solution provides. Simplicity in explanation of your concept, plan, product, and technology makes it easier for investors and stakeholders to understand and buy into your story. Pivoting is an expected part of the innovation and commercialization process. It is always good to have a backup plan just in case your primary strategy fails.

Read more: How a cotton candy machine gave this NSF-funded, Indiana-based wound-healing startup its first big idea | MedCity News.

Fraunhofer iPad app guides liver surgery through augmented reality | engadget.com

Here is an excellent example of the innovative use of commercially available computer technology, in this case an iPad tablet, to address a clinical problem.

The problem is that surgeons performing liver surgery to resect a tumor must identify and then avoid the extensive vascular structure in the liver when removing the tumor. They must also be sure to leave sufficient liver tissue and blood vessels for the liver to function properly after surgery or the patient will die. Currently, surgeons either memorize the patient’s vascular structure after studying 3D CT scan images or they bring printouts into the operating room or they show the images on large computer monitors.

The first option for referencing the imaging information runs the risk of the surgeon forgetting an important detail or remembering something incorrectly (it happens). The second and third options’ risks are that the surgeon must repeatedly look away from the surgical field to get the structural information that will guide his/her excision. These “lookaways” prolong the procedure, cause the surgeon to lose his/her orientation, and can even cause damage if an instrument is moved during the period of inattention.

Fraunhofer, a German research institute that develops and licenses advanced technology, created a simple iPad app that allows the 3D CT images to be brought very close to the surgical field. The iPad is placed in a sterile sleeve so it can be manipulated directly by the surgeon or assistant. That would be plenty valuable if it was all that the app did. But (as the late night infomercials say) wait, there’s more!

The app uses the iPad camera to capture a live view of the surgical field and the patient’s liver. It then superimposes the vasculature from the 3D CT imaging study on the live image from the camera. That’s the augmented reality part. The app also enables the surgeon to measure the length of a blood vessel by marking it on screen and to “erase” excised blood vessels from the display. The app can also estimate the blood flow through the remaining vessels, helping the surgeon to determine if the remaining tissue will be viable.

The researchers plan to use the app next in pancreatic surgery, another organ that requires painstaking precision and relies heavily on preoperative imaging.

This app could be further improved, in my opinion, by adapting a head-worn, see-through display with a built-in camera. The surgeon would remain focused on the task and the 3D imaging would be superimposed on his field of vision. There would be no need for the awkward manipulation of a tablet on or near the surgical field. The other members of the surgical team could have their own headsets with the surgeon’s view displayed. Of course, there are no commercially available products in this category quite yet, although Google Glass is a promising candidate.

Takeaways: This is a great example of innovation in medicine by adapting the familiar (physicians are heavy adopters of iPhones and iPads) to a serious clinical problem through the development of an easy to use software app. The lesson for entrepreneurs and startup CEOs (again) is to leverage the billions of dollars of investments made by others in consumer technology and then to add value by 1. understanding the clinical problem and 2. developing a unique solution with the leveraged technology. It’s a fast, relatively inexpensive path to the market.

Read more: Fraunhofer iPad app guides liver surgery through augmented reality.

Henry Ford, Innovation, and That “Faster Horse” Quote | Harvard Business Review

OK, so Henry Ford never actually said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” But he might have thought it, and he definitely managed that way.

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“Henry Ford’s genius lay not in inventing the assembly line, interchangeable parts, or the automobile (he didn’t invent any of them). Instead, his initial advantage came from his creation of a virtuous circle that underpinned his vision for the first durable mass-market automobile. He adapted the moving assembly line process for the manufacture of automobiles, which allowed him to manufacture, market and sell the Model T at a significantly lower price than his competition, enabling the creation of a new and rapidly growing market.

But in doing so, Henry Ford froze the design of the Model T. Freezing the design of the Model T catalyzed the speed of this virtuous circle, allowing him to better refine the moving assembly line process, which in turn allowed him to cut costs further, lower prices even further, and drive the growth of Ford Motor Company from 10,000 cars manufactured in 1908 to 472,350 cars in 1915 to 933,720 cars in 1920.”

Unfortunately for Ford, his company was out-disrupted by Alfred P. Sloan and General Motors, which introduced a dizzying array of innovations in the ensuing years, dooming Ford to decades of second place in the race for automotive market share.

I worked for a time in marketing at General Motors. We experienced the same frustration in focus groups. People are great at asking for incremental innovations and improvements, particularly if they are experiencing a problem and if they are asked, “what do you want?” But ask them what they want in personal transportation in ten years and you either get blank stares or Jetsons flying car suggestions.

It’s the same in medicine. Performing market research with actual healthcare professionals is necessary but not sufficient. They are immersed in the day-to-day drama of healing patients and dealing with monstrous bureaucracies. It doesn’t leave much time or energy for dreaming. You can find lots of small problems to solve by spending time with healthcare workers and asking lots of questions but you need a visionary founder or a visionary physician to imagine big innovations.

Medical device entrepreneurs have to walk a fine line. On one hand, they need to establish a solution for an unmet need and show that they can grow their market in a credible way. Unfortunately, that’s a bit too conservative an approach to satisfy most investors and stakeholders. On the other hand, they can “swing for the fences” and try to commercialize a disruptive idea. That strategy usually leads to feedback that they are taking too big a risk. Either way, funding is difficult and it may be tough to recruit employees and board members.

Sometimes it’s a matter of credibility. If this is your first startup or if you have a string of less-than-successful startups, maybe you can start by playing “small ball” – to use a baseball term. Get a few wins and show the world that you can plan and execute, then bring out your Big Idea. Of course, if you have a track record of success, you can probably successfully pitch investors and attract early employees without much difficulty.

For startup CEOs, it’s a good time to reflect on why you started the company. Was it to change the world or just to make a few bucks? Perhaps your strategy should reflect your passion.

Takeaways: Do perform market research, early and often as you work to establish your startup and idea. Don’t expect perfect market validation for your disruptive idea. Consider an incremental approach if you aren’t getting traction with customers, investors, or stakeholders. Establish relationships with the visionaries in your market segment.

Read more: Henry Ford, Innovation, and That “Faster Horse” Quote – Patrick Vlaskovits – Harvard Business Review.