TEDMED Hive companies push limits of digital health innovation

Converting smartphones into cancer diagnostic tools, shrinking the size of vital sign monitoring devices, and helping people with impaired speech find their voice are a few examples of the innovative technology on show at TEDMED this week. With 78 companies pitching digital health innovation technologies between San Francisco and Washington as part of the Hive […]

Converting smartphones into cancer diagnostic tools, shrinking the size of vital sign monitoring devices, and helping people with impaired speech find their voice are a few examples of the innovative technology on show at TEDMED this week. With 78 companies pitching digital health innovation technologies between San Francisco and Washington as part of the Hive collection of startups, it’s tough to capture the full scope of their goals and approaches to overcoming challenges in care delivery. But I’ve highlighted a few of them here.

iHuman Patient: The use of patient simulation tools to train physicians and help veteran physicians brush up on their skills is an approach that’s been gaining popularity, with companies such as Symbionix and SimCare Health. By making doctors more comfortable with conducting physical exams and other procedures, it can improve the rapport between physicians and patients and quality of interactions. iHuman-Patient helps physicians take patient histories, take vital signs, learn which questions to ask, and follow up on relevant findings, through the help of avatars.

Constellation: With a little more than 2 percent of men and women in the U.S. expected to be diagnosed with melanoma in their lifetime, based on data from the National Cancer Institute, melanoma is the fifth most common form of cancer.  Mobile diagnostics company Constellation is taking a different approach from other mobile dermatology companies in the market that want users to send images of their rashes and moles to a pool of dermatologists to assess. The company’s device takes images of the user’s skin surface, assembles them into a map of sorts and alerts users to any sign of skin cancer over time. The company is a spin-out of Curated Innovation, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based innovation. The founders want the images to be retaken at every annual physical.

Sensiotec: A medical device company’s Virtual Medical Assistant vital sign monitor, which received FDA clearance in 2012, uses a sensor panel that can slide beneath a mattress or chair cushion. The makers of the device hope it will used for continuous monitoring of patients to spot early warning signs of deteriorating health in patients with chronic conditions, reduce complications associated with these diseases and support aging in place. The idea is to reduce unnecessary readmissions by catching potential problems earlier.

Mobile OCT: The mobile health company developed a way to convert mobile phone cameras into cancer screening tools, starting with cervical cancer. The portable microscope device is designed with developing counties in mind. Ariel Beery, the CEO, offered a description that illustrated the disruptive technology behind the business. “By pulsing the light in a particular way, we are able to use any digital camera, including the one on your smartphone, to characterize each layer of your tissue, and thereby provide diagnostic data to better determine whether or not a cancer is growing. Even more disruptive than that is that we are able to do so on a device whose cost is less than $400 built on the back of a low-cost mobile phone.” St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, Scripps Medical Center and the University of Pennsylvania will participate in clinical trials of the screening device.

eTect is positioning itself as a potential competitor to Proteus. It uses a sensor embedded in a pill that can be swallowed to confirm that a patient has taken his or her medication. The idea is to aggregate data from this device, claims data, pharmacy data and electronic medical records to develop the fullest picture on a patient’s condition. Neil Uliano is the CEO and founder. Last month, eTect received a $1 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse as part of a clinical trial. As a part of the Phase II program, eTect will add biometric identification capabilities to its current ID-Cap reader and incorporate a secure back-end software platform that will support the most stringent government security requirements. In addition to eTect, Uliano has launched Convergent Engineering, a biomedical engineering firm in Gainesville, Florida. Uliano, who developed ID-Cap, also sees applications for clinical research.

Opternative, part of Healthbox’s portfolio of companies, developed a way to help people assess their need for glasses or contact lenses by creating a Web-based refractive eye exam. Although it’s not supposed to be a conclusive exam, it could alert patients’ to their need for a set of glasses and spur them to take a more comprehensive test. It’s supposed to be provided by licensed eye care professionals for patients aged 18-40 in good health. The technology does not include a comprehensive health exam.

Voiceitt developed an app to help people with impaired speech through a medical condition such as cerebral palsy or stroke to be better understood. The Talkitt app recognizes speech patterns in the user’s voice and converts them into a computerized voice. Danny Weissberg and Stas Tiomkin, who graduated from the Israel Institute of Technology, co-founded the company. It is currently raising $50,000 through an Indiegogo campaign to support the Beta test of its platform in the first quarter next year before the app hits the market later in 2015. The website said it will charge users a subscription fee of roughly $20 per month.