We’ve seen telemedicine startups turning everyday technology into ways to remotely diagnose ear infections, vision disorders, pneumonia and heart attack, just to name a few. Now, a pair of entrepreneurial-minded brothers — one who’s a dermatologist and the other who’s a software developer — have developed a Web-based and mobile device platform that connects patients to dermatologists for remote diagnosis and treatment of skin conditions.
Novi Medicine takes the store-and-forward approach to teledermatology: Patients fill out some questions about themselves, their acne, the treatments they’ve used and their health histories in the system, and then upload three photos of their faces, plus photos of their chests or backs if they have acne there.
The system then vets the quality of the images and assigns the case to a physician who evaluates the information to generate a treatment plan that’s specific to the patient’s severity of acne and the exacerbating factors. When the treatment plan is finished, an email or SMS text message is sent to the patient.
“The product is finished, but we have a few more i’s to dot and t’s to cross before going live,” said co-founder Josh Spanogle, a dermatologist who did his residency at Mayo Clinic and fellowship at the University of California Irvine.
Spanogle said the product will initially focus just on acne, the most common skin disorder in the U.S., which affects as many as 40 million Americans and results in $2.2 billion worth of treatment each year, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. But it may also have other applications.
“The driving force behind this is mostly one of access,” Spanogle said. “The wait times to see a dermatologist in Boston can be up to three months. Through a service like this, we can deliver expert care to a population that’s underserved by dermatologists.”
Spanogle said he’s already received commitments from about five dermatologists and anticipates more once patients start coming on board.
There are still some uncertainties surrounding telemedicine that pose challenges for companies like Novi, one being issues around electronic prescriptions. Since some states have different regulations around e-prescriptions across state lines, Novi will roll out state by state, starting in California, Spanogle said. Another is reimbursement, which Spanogle said the company is getting around by avoiding it all together, going straight to consumers who will pay out-of-pocket what Spanogle said is a “reasonable cost” to use the service.
The diagnostic reliability of teledermatology has been studied with somewhat mixed results, but is one of the most popular applications of telemedicine today and has inspired other startups including Iagnosis and Dermatologist on Call.
Spanogle and his brother, Seth, a five-time entrepreneur, are part of the current class of the Rock Health Boston accelerator program, which awards $20,000, office space and mentorship to digital health startups.
Spanogle said that Demo Day, coming up on Aug. 24, will kick off a more vigorous search for financing.