Star­tups in­no­vate med­i­cal sec­tor

The Niagara Falls Review - - BUSINESS - SUZANNE WINTROB

Many en­trepreneurs are driven by prof­itabil­ity, time to market and in­flu­ence. Many oth­ers, though, are driven by the im­pact their in­no­va­tion will have. That bodes well for the med­i­cal in­dus­try and it’s why there’s so much ac­tiv­ity in the sec­tor in Canada right now.

“Cul­tur­ally, the Cana­dian med­i­cal space is will­ing to en­gage and will­ing to part­ner and is not as jaded by this con­stant tech evo­lu­tion that hasn’t re­ally de­liv­ered in the last sev­eral decades in (the med­i­cal) sec­tor,” says Jay Shah, di­rec­tor of the Univer­sity of Water­loo’s Ve­loc­ity en­trepreneur­ship pro­gram, home to the largest free startup in­cu­ba­tor in the world. “That part­ner­ship is crit­i­cal for any med­i­cal in­no­va­tion to move for­ward. It can’t be cre­ated in a vac­uum. En­trepreneurs here feel em­pow­ered and sup­ported and the in­dus­try is re­cep­tive. That com­bi­na­tion is re­ally pow­er­ful go­ing for­ward.”

Here’s a sam­pling of some of the lat­est Cana­dian-made health­care in­no­va­tions:

Hear all about it

Mike Wei­der is al­ways look­ing for the next big idea. The soft­ware en­tre­pre­neur from Colling­wood, Ont., has sold two startup com­pa­nies, sits on the board of four oth­ers, ad­vises two ven­ture funds and is an ac­tive an­gel in­vestor. So when a col­league in­tro­duced him to Ottawa ear, nose and throat physi­cian Dr. Matt Bromwich, who had in­vented a mo­bile prod­uct called Shoe­box Au­diom­e­try that in­creases early de­tec­tion of hear­ing-re­lated con­di­tions, he wanted in.

Wei­der is CEO of Clear­wa­ter Clin­i­cal Ltd. (clear­wa­ter­clin­i­ that’s tak­ing hear­ing tests to the masses. Un­like tra­di­tional hear­ing tests con­ducted in sound booths, Shoe­box Au­diom­e­try con­sists of an iPad, head­phones and spe­cial­ized game-play soft­ware. Re­sults are backed up to a se­cure web por­tal so it’s easy to ar­chive, man­age and view au­dio­grams and pa­tient in­for­ma­tion from any web browser. Monthly fee for hard­ware, soft­ware and cloud-based man­age­ment ser­vices starts at $200.

Be­ing portable, Shoe­box re­duces hear­ing-test wait times as well as travel time, par­tic­u­larly for those in re­mote ar­eas where doc­tors and au­di­ol­o­gists are scarce. It’s cur­rently be­ing used by med­i­cal students across Canada to test school­child­ren for early de­tec­tion of hear­ing loss.

Health­care in your pyjamas

Al­most 70 per cent of Cana­di­ans avoid see­ing a doc­tor when they’re sick be­cause the line is too long, the hours too short or the dis­tance too great, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Ip­sos sur­vey.

That doesn’t sit well with Dr. Brett Belchetz, an emer­gency room physi­cian who has a fron­trow seat to the prob­lems of hand­son health­care. Only half of his pa­tients ac­tu­ally re­quire a phys­i­cal exam for him to make a proper di­ag­no­sis and pro­vide treat­ment. Yet there they are, hav­ing likely sat for hours in the wait­ing room be­fore see­ing him.

It’s this frus­tra­tion that has Belchetz now al­ter­nat­ing be­tween his week­end scrubs and a week­day desk job. He’s CEO of Maple (, a 24/7 on­line pay-pe­ruse plat­form con­nect­ing pa­tients to li­censed physi­cians in min­utes. For $49 per call (or $359 for unlimited an­nual use), pa­tients in On­tario can log in to Maple’s se­cure web por­tal and in­stantly ac­cess a pool of doc­tors who are stand­ing by to an­swer ques­tions, di­ag­nose ill­nesses, pro­vide sick notes and pre­scribe med­i­ca­tion. Con­sul­ta­tion is by in­stant mes­sage, voice or live two-way video. It’s “like Uber for pa­tients,” ex­plains Belchetz, with the first doc­tor to pick up the re­quest tak­ing the case and earn­ing the fee. Like Uber, Maple takes a small cut of the ac­tion.

Whack that mole

With just 640 or so der­ma­tol­o­gists serv­ing more than 35 mil­lion Cana­di­ans, it can take months to get an ap­point­ment. For those with a sus­pi­cious mole or le­sion, it’s an anx­ious wait.

MedX Health Corp. (medx­ is hop­ing to ease the pain. Un­like the tra­di­tional der­moscopy used by most der­ma­tol­o­gists that ex­am­ines the skin sur­face and re­quires biopsy for deeper in­spec­tion, MedX’s non-in­va­sive SIAs­copy skin as­sess­ment tool uses light to pen­e­trate not only above and but also up to two mil­lime­tres be­low the skin sur­face to de­tect po­ten­tial melanoma. The im­age is scanned to a com­puter and then se­curely trans­mit­ted to one of three Cana­dian der­ma­tol­o­gists on MedX’s cur­rent roster, who re­views the scan and pro­vides the pa­tient with next steps within 72 hours.

It’s cur­rently be­ing rolled out to med­i­cal clin­ics at Loblaw stores in six On­tario cities and will then ex­pand to other prov­inces. It’s also at work at Air Canada’s med­i­cal fa­cil­ity at Toronto Pear­son In­ter­na­tional Air­port to test pi­lots and flight crews, who are at an in­creased risk of skin can­cer due to UVA ra­di­a­tion pen­e­trat­ing air­craft win­dows.


Shoe­box Au­diom­e­try con­sists of an iPad, head­phones and spe­cial­ized game-play soft­ware.

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