Medical technology helps doctors do their job. Just as any other device or system, it can facilitate or hinder the work of the clinician, and design plays an important role. Design reflects functionality and functionality is critical to any medical device as it defines not only the relationship between a clinician and their practice, but also with their patient. To help doctors provide better care for their patients, Medacc, a medtech startup from Eindhoven, is placing the patient-technology interaction at the core of design for medical devices.
Whether it’s with a smartphone or a car, we are becoming more demanding that technology answer our needs in ways that are both personal and at the same time responsive to the environment. We want our fridge to talk back to us, calling our name, reading out recipes or expiry dates. Medical technology is no exception. Applying user experience to the design of medical devices is slowly making its way into the industry, along with other trends like digital health and the quantified self that provide treatment to patients in their homes.
Medacc, a Dutch startup from Eindhoven, is operating at the intersection of design and healthcare. Their mission is to make room for better treatment and diagnosis through powerful design. Medacc create tools that improve the experience of existing medical devices and procedures, starting with ultrasound imaging.
Benjamin Tchang, CEO, Victor Donker, COO, and Jori Verbeek, CTO, all graduates from the Technical University of Eindhoven, found their entrepreneurial calling after coming together to work on Tchang’s graduation project.
Together with supervisor Richard Lopata, Benjamin studied new methods for diagnosing children with muscle diseases. Normally, diagnosis is done with the help of blood tests or samples of muscle tissue. Benjamin opted for a non-intrusive method using an ultrasound technique, until he encountered a problem. He couldn’t stabilize the ultrasound transducer on the patient’s body while they had to perform a series of exercises, like jumping and squatting.
He then called industrial designer and fellow hockey player, Victor Donker, who at the time was developing a communication system for patients with breast cancer at Philips together with Jori Verbeek. Benjamin’s request for a “smart solution” resulted in the first of many iterations of the ProbeFix prototype.
Starting with Ultrasound
Ultrasound technology is rapidly gaining popularity with clinicians. Its competitive price, accuracy and versatility make it applicable to a growing number of medical areas. With Philips launching Lumify, the ultrasound system for emergency care, the industry has shown a shift to a shared, user-comprehensive era of healthcare. Lumify is a) portable and b) works with any Android tablet. There is still one essential downside to it: It requires manning.
While performing an ultrasound procedure, doctors or technicians currently hold the ultrasound transducers in their hands. This means that they can’t easily perform measurements for long periods of time, or while the patient is moving. Some examinations can last for up to 30 minutes, while body motion distorts the image quality.
“Take, for example, pacemaker optimization,” Victor explains. “Pacemakers need synchronization every few months: The milliseconds of the pulse of the device need to be adjusted. What doctors do during check-ups is place the ultrasound on the heart with one hand, to get the best image of the heart, and with the other hand they try to optimize the pacemaker’s time intervals.”
The biggest issue in many radiology and cardiology departments, however, is the large number of ultrasound technicians who suffer from repetitive strain injuries due to operating in an unnatural posture. An astounding 70% of technicians based in the US, UK, and the Netherlands reported to have suffered pain after scanning procedures, show studies by the University of Sheffield and Workcover Authority NSW, costing the medical industry €3000 to €6000 per employee.
Medacc’s ProbeFix has the power to eliminate the risk of injuries for ultrasound technicians.
The ProbeFix in Action
The ProbeFix is a medical accessory that fixates the ultrasound transducer on any part of the body. It allows for dynamic and long-term measurements. This is achieved by using a custom-made module that can accommodate various transducers. Its adjustable straps allow the module to be attached to different areas of the body. It can be tilted and rotated into different positions to fit any angle. In this way, the ProbeFix achieves enhanced image quality, even when the patient is moving.
To top it off, the ProbeFix is also hands-free, which eliminates the necessity of a nurse or attendant to hold a device altogether. This core feature is opening entirely new markets for ultrasound technology and thus empowering more clinicians working in other fields.
The ProbeFix can be used in multiple hospital settings, and in conjunction with other monitoring technology, such as heart catheterization, echography, and along with X-rays. It has advantages for health providers working outside the hospital, such as physiotherapists and veterinary doctors. With its hands-free and easily adjustable design, it enables easier, safer, and higher quality ultrasound imaging, and it improves the user experience for everyone involved.
“We designed a simple and practical solution to an every-day problem. Our innovation lies in the fact that we translated the user experience into a technology, not the other way around, thinking along with the clinicians and incorporating their input” Jori shares.
“Because the product is so simple, it has an almost universal applicability” Victor adds. “Every clinician we meet finds a new use for the ProbeFix that suits their own routine.”
The Power of the Modular Approach
The Medacc team believes that a modular approach to medical technology can solve many of the problems clinicians experience, as it can easily help them to personalize procedures.
“The closer you observe life in a hospital, the better you’ll understand the challenges clinicians face on a day-to-day basis”, says Victor. Before co-founding a startup, Victor spent 11 months doing an internship in a hospital in Sydney, where he developed a few medical devices. One of them, a modular system that helps patients who suffered a stroke recover their balance, is still in use in multiple hospitals in Australia.
“What I found really fascinating about doctors is how inventive they can be. Armed with duct tape, some wooden blocks, ropes, and any material at hand, they put together a series of exercises for every patient individually. And they do that because every person responds differently to the doctor’s stimuli. What I did was to add sensors in order to provide feedback to the patient.”
“The problem is, while experts in health care excel at what they do, they lack tools that are flexible to a patient-specific situation,” Victor adds. “What we are trying to do to help doctors is to take their personal approach to patients and apply it to customizable, easy, and simple instruments. Not only do we try to close the loophole of what clinicians lack, but also help them in their communication with the patient.”
In the future, Medacc wants to make ultrasound technology not only hands-free, but also wireless. The insights they’ve gained from visiting multiple hospitals and healthcare professionals has formed a vision of an ultrasound that is wearable and mobile: a sweeping change that will empower both clinicians and patients.
Left to right: Victor Donker, Jori Verbeek, Benjamin Tchang
Medacc is one of the seven startups currently participating in our accelerator program. Follow them for more on @medaccnl
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