Medee aims to build digital health technology community

The medical device commercialisation specialists behind digital health company uHealth have launched a new service to provide information on emerging medical technologies to consumers, and have also signed a distribution agreement with the makers of the AliveCor heart monitoring device.

Will Knox and Jeff Reid set up uHealth last year to develop a portfolio of quality, medically validated digital technologies, including the AirSonea asthma device, the WiTouch Pro wireless transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device and the LUMOback posture sensor and mobile app.

They have since added the AliveCor health monitor for iPhone device to their roster. AliveCor is a single-lead ECG device built into an iPhone case that has an accompanying app that can analyse the readings and display them on the phone's screen.

It has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and validated in several studies, including for use in community pharmacy to screen for atrial fibrillation, by a team from the University of Sydney led by cardiologist Ben Freedman.

uHealth has also added a new smartphone-based endoscope technology called endoscope-i that it is marketing to ENT specialists, as well as a product developed by UK company Sensium Healthcare that consists of a wireless, disposable patch that monitors vital signs every two minutes and sends an alert to the nurse should the patient deteriorate.

It is also awaiting TGA approval for Dario, an all-in-one glucose meter that plugs into a smartphone and can both measure blood glucose levels and link to a cloud-based diabetes management platform on the user's smartphone.

As the portfolio of products expands, uHealth has also launched Medee (pronounced Medi and a play on the words 'medical' and 'community'), which Mr Knox describes as a free subscription-based platform that aims to provide health information and news about existing and emerging technologies for common chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma.

It also plans to target the booming aged care market, both in terms of institutional aged care and devices that will help elderly people stay at home for longer.

“We found over the 12 to 18 months of being in the digital business that there is so much technology out there that can be used and applied to the family at home who are interested in normal health issues as well as chronic diseases, but we found that there was just not enough information available and nor was anyone using portals for them to get access,” Mr Knox said.

“What we wanted to do is create almost like the Cudo or the Living Social of healthcare technology and wrap it up in a package that then informs the consumers about the technology and how it fits in to a particular health issue. At the same time as all of these technologies are becoming available for consumers, there is also a general interest from consumers to know more about them but they don't have a way of linking the two.”

Mr Knox said Medee is basically an email database of interested consumers and health and technology information that will allow the company to tailor “infomail” packages that can be sent to subscribers.

It will be structured around monthly packages on a particular health issue or chronic disease, with an infomail sent out once a week for three weeks containing information about the chronic disease state itself, how it is traditionally managed, and how particular technologies might fit into a new way of managing those conditions.

The final email will contain obligation-free offers on the technologies at discount prices. All of the technologies featured will be regulated products that are TGA approved and clinically validated, with a team of health experts advising on their quality. This will weed out gimmick devices with no clinical worth, Mr Knox said.

“The message we're trying to get across is there is a wealth of information out there on the Internet that you can read, but we want to try validate the information as well,” he said. “We want to make sure that the average Australian is given information about these types of diseases and technologies from people who know not only about the disease but about the technology.”

uHealth's devices will obviously form part of the technologies on offer but Medee will be open to any medical technology that has clinical validation data.

“We'll check to see if there has been work done from a usability perspective and what we are representing are technologies that we think are validated and have a real problem-solving element to them,” he said.

uHealth is developing a publicity and marketing campaign that will be aimed at people with chronic illnesses but also at mothers, who are the predominant decision-makers in terms of healthcare for most families. Mothers are increasingly making decisions not just for themselves, their children and their partners but for their parents as well.

“What we want to try to do is educate them about some new technologies that are available to help them look after their mums and dads, not only within the aged care structure but also maybe at home or where they are getting to the point where they thinking about [institutional aged care].

“They can see some of these home monitoring products that might not only be available now but we might also give them a taste of the stuff that is coming out in the next couple of years as well.”

Device portfolio

Mr Knox and Mr Reid have both worked in various management and commercialisation roles with medical device companies such as Cochlear and Medtronic. They set up uHealth at the start of last year to put together a portfolio of existing technologies from here and overseas, but also to partner with product developers to bring devices to market.

The company has partnerships with an industrial design company called Katapult Design and device engineering firm Procept Engineering, both based in Australia.

Since then, Mr Knox said the company had built some new arms to the business.

“We have a very heavy focus on the digital consumer healthcare side and what we are trying to is both source and developed leading medical devices that can be used by consumers for the management of chronic disease.

“Unlike some of the other 'digital health' areas that focus on wellness and fitness tracking and that kind of stuff, we are much more focused on validated and regulated medical devices.”

In addition to LUMOback and the WiTouch Pro – which both came out of Mr Reid's background of spinal implant technology – probably the most well-known technology they are distributing is the AirSonea, a beautifully designed and TGA-approved wheeze monitor that also comes with an app that helps track symptoms, triggers, peak flow measurements and medication usage.

The device itself is held against the throat to record levels of wheeze, with the measurements sent through the AsthmaSense app to the AsthmaSense Cloud, where measurements and progress are recorded and can be shared with healthcare providers.

The recent agreement with AliveCor for its device, which was partially designed and engineered in Australia, involves a distribution partnership to sell the device to consumers and to clinicians more easily.

The results of studies by Professor Freedman and his team from the University of Sydney and Concord Clinical School, including PhD work by Nicole Lowres using the device in the community pharmacy and general practice settings, raised a lot of interest when it was published last year.

AliveCor's electrodes are rested on the fingers of each hand, with the AliveECG app sensing skin contact on the sensors. The app can be set to take 30-second or continuous rhythm strips, which are then stored in the app and sent to a secure server that can automatically analyse the reading.

Professor Freedman's team found that the website's automatic prediction was able to correctly diagnose atrial fibrillation 97 per cent of the time.

In addition to AliveCor is the endoscope-i, which Mr Knox said is basically an adaptor for any type of endoscope that is linked to the iPhone.

“The software in the iPhone and the apps lets you store, manage and transfer images and videos from the endoscope,” he said. “Anyone can use it but we are initially going to ear, nose and throat surgeons who have a particular type of rigid endoscope and want to use data to transfer information through to patients.

“The other interesting application for it is in smartphone intubation. That is going to be the next thing that we're going to be focusing on. They can actually use this for endoscopic intubation, so they can transfer the pictures that they are getting on the scope through the iPhone onto a TV screen within the operating theatre. And all for $200.”

The Dario smart glucose system is still going through the TGA process at the moment but Mr Knox hopes it will be approved soon. Developed by Israeli company LabStyle Innovations, the device includes strips, a lancing device and a smartphone-paired glucose meter.

It connects with a cloud-based diabetes management platform that can be accessed by the user, their carers and their healthcare professionals.

“It has a little attachment that plugs into the headphone jack of your smartphone and through the software application it also has the ability to track symptoms, your insulin, your diet and your calorie intake – all of the information that diabetics are looking for,” Mr Knox said.

“With this software, you can manage your chronic disease on your phone and you can also check your blood glucose using the meter that you plug into the smartphone. We are pretty excited about that one and it is taking up a lot of our time in planning the launch and looking at where we can integrate that into pharmacies.”

Beyond the digital consumer sphere, uHealth has also partnered with UK firm Sensium Healthcare to distribute the SensiumVitals system, developed by Imperial College London biomedical engineer Chris Toumazou, which consists of a wireless technology designed to monitor the vital signs of patients on general wards.

It uses single-use, disposable patches that take readings every two minutes and can automatically send alerts through to the nurses' station or the hospital IT system.

“Instead of nurses doing rounds every four to six hours to take the vital signs, this will take the vital signs every two minutes,” he said. “If there are any alerts or parameters that the vitals are going above or below, it can then send an alert by text message, email or to a paging system. You can catch the deteriorating patient earlier.”

The Dario device should be available in June or July, and interested parties can sign up to Medee now.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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