In collaboration with a mobile health startup, a design firm and local health clinics, Medtronic is orchestrating a program aimed at improving diagnosis and treatment of ear infections and hearing loss in India, meanwhile supporting its ENT business there.
So far the program, called Shruti, has screened nearly 11,000 people in India for ear infections and hearing loss, and referred dozens to receive follow-up care from local ENT surgeons.
At the core of the program are a small cohort of community health workers, a smartphone-based otoscope developed by Icarus Design, and a telemedicine platform developed by MIT spinout ClickMedix.
Starting in August, community health workers at Dr. Shroff’s Charity Eye Hospital in New Dehli and Health Management and Research Institute in Hyderabad were trained on a screening protocol developed by Medtronic that they would use on people who came to free screening camps held at various locations throughout the communities. They were also trained on how to use the otoscope to take pictures of the middle ear that they would send, through ClickMedix’s platform, to ENT specialists stationed back at the clinic.
Deafness and chronic ear infections are especially prevalent in low-income countries, where access to proper, timely and affordable care is an issue. According to the WHO, early identification and intervention can reduce the impact of hearing loss.
At the screening camps, workers collect personal and health information from participants and follow Medtronic’s protocol based on what symptoms (if any) he or she is experiencing. For example, if someone reports itching and pain in the right ear, the worker knows to take a picture of the ear to look for certain lesions that could indicate an infection.
Those photos are then send to ENT specialists who oversee the program from the hospitals. Those specialists can confirm diagnosis and issue treatment plans remotely. Nurses and health workers are on-hand at the camps to treat small infections or remove wax. For complex cases, they recommend an in-person visit to the hospital for further treatment.
The screening process usually takes about three minutes. “The health workers that we’re training see about 200 petients per month,” said Ting Shih, the founder of ClickMedix, which develops mobile health solutions with the goal of bringing affordable and quality health services to under-served populations.
Medtronic is funding the pilot project, which aims to screen 70,000 people in India, but sees it as a program that’s both scalable and self-sustaining.
“We set up the process, procedure and partnerships, but these programs grow organically on their own without having more support,” Shih said.
For the people of India, it means expanded access to affordable care. It also gives ClickMedix and Icarus an avenue to distribute their products in developing countries, and local ENT specialists the opportunity to treat more patients. Meanwhile it expands Medtronic’s presence in India, a key market for the company.
“It’s really a social business – it’s not philanthropy,” said Medtronic rep Natalie St. Denis.
The 11,000 patients screened is an impressive number but is still a ways from the 70,000 screenings goal that’s been set for the project. Then, Medtronic plans to move on to other developing countries with high rates of hearing loss and chronic ear infections.
“It’s a very scalable model, as long as we have those folks on the ground that help with the actual training and delivery,” St. Denis said. “Patients are already paying for these procedures; they’re just going in way too late. Earlier screening means lower costs for everyone.”