Catalyst: Polyglot patient communications, a ticker tape of health costs, and medical devices designed for women

The following highlights recent progress from companies represented in The Hive at TEDMED 2013.  Click here if you’re a start-up interested in applying for The Hive 2014.

Innovation for Women’s Health

Surbhi Sarna’s goal to devise new tools for women’s health grew from her own experience as a 13-year-old in pain.

Sarna suffered from ovarian cysts for years, as well as the attending anxiety that they might be cancerous. Doctors couldn’t provide a diagnosis without surgery, which could have impaired her fertility.

Even now, it’s difficult to diagnose ovarian cancer unless it’s significantly advanced, and patients at high risk due to a family history or genetic mutation are often advised to have their ovaries removed completely. Sarna hopes to change that: her company, nVision Medical, produces a catheter that can grab cells from a woman’s fallopian tube and determine whether they are cancerous.  She’s also working on an endoscope that can diagnose fallopian tube blockage, a major cause of infertility, in an in-office procedure – a solution without which, involves a lengthy and often painful x-ray procedure called a hysterosalpingogram.

The women’s medical device market has to date been underdeveloped, Sarna says.

“Even if it’s not outright sexism, people like to be involved with things they can readily relate to. So as long as we continue to have a male-dominated venture culture, we’ll continue to have this challenge,” she says.

Her ideas push past doubts. The week after TEDMED, nVision closed Series A financing for $4.5 million. Soon after, the company added a second product to its line, a device designed to detect ovarian cancers at early stages – something nearly impossible to do today. nVision is has completed design and is testing it on human tissue. This week, Sarna was named as one of Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30” in science and healthcare.

Eliminating Bedside Communication Barriers

How can you help a child with autism spectrum disorder who may be challenged verbally communicate his or her needs in a hospital setting?  How about children whose caregivers don’t speak English?

Communications specialists at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, Tenn. encountered these hurdles often. The hospital initially addressed the problem with a picture board packet, featuring images that could be arranged into basic statements using Velcro.

Enter Starling Innovations, which provides technology with graphic interfaces to help patients express needs in a hospital setting. While working with Vanderbilt to roll out its base product last year, Starling decided to integrate Vanderbilt’s low-tech solution into their platform, creating a multilingual tool that facilitates face-to-face conversation. It adapts automatically to a patient’s language and presents a configurable conversation path.

Image courtesy of Starling Innovations, Inc.
Image courtesy of Starling Innovations, Inc.

All interactions are supported by images, text and audio, translated automatically for the provider, and captured in a database for further review.  Starling has implemented the system in three hospitals.

Starling has also designed a real-time, visual workflow canvas as part of its system, for which the company has filed a provisional patent. Its revelations about staff utilization can be surprising for administrators, said VP and General Manager Brian Yarnell.

“Eighty percent or more of the requests that we see can be handled by lower-level staff like nurse assistants, but we don’t see that necessarily being the case. As we work through reports, we have been adjusting workflows and escalation pathways to optimize resource utilization,” he says.

“For example, in one implementation, we saw requests for a nebulizer taking an average of about 45 minutes to complete. The hospital had RN’s automatically assigned to these requests, but they weren’t authorized to administer the treatment. By adjusting the workflow to notify a RN that a request was made and automatically assigning responsibility to Respiratory Therapy, we cut down lead time for these requests by about 80%,” Yarnell says.

A Ticker Tape of Healthcare Costs

Patients, if you’re eager for more price transparency when looking for care, know that many doctors appreciate that as well.

More than 1,000 of them have signed up with PokitDoc, a real-time healthcare shopping service, where users can find providers and compare prices for procedures, make appointments, and even pay for the work up front – for which they receive a discount.

service-detailLisa Maki, PokitDoc’s co-founder and CEO, says there has been a surge of interest over the past few months in the platform, thanks in part to effects of the Affordable Care Act, which will result in more people with high-deductible plans, handling co-pays from their own hard-earned health savings accounts.

Primary care physicians, as well as pediatricians and gynecologists, are keen on using PokitDoc, Maki says, seeing it as a market differentiator, a way to promote transparent patient communication and to inspire loyalty. Ambulatory surgical centers are eager adopters as well as they strive to compete with local hospitals and other groups.

“They’re competitive because they can run their facilities so efficiently and attract really good doctors,” Maki says.

This week, PokitDoc released a price index based on its own internal data. It scrolls, tickertape fashion, at the bottom of its home page.

Says Maki, “When you’re shopping for healthcare, you want to know the prices, now.  You don’t want last year’s price on a car; why would you want it for healthcare?”

Maki was a guest in a recent Great Challenges live online Google+ Hangout on the topic of healthcare transparency.  Watch a recap of the discussion here.