Startups innovate medical sector
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. (clearwaterclinical.com) 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 (getmaple.ca), 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. (medxhealth.com) 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.