December 17, 2018

Telehealth devices offer new ways to be ‘seen’ by doctors

Your preschooler wakes up with an earache and fever. You tell your boss you’ll be late to work, finagle a pediatrician appointment, bundle up the sick kid, sit in a waiting room full of other sick kids, spend five minutes with the doctor, and leave with a prescription and/or orders to return for a follow-up exam.

All parents loathe this scenario, but Israeli dad and health-care industry entrepreneur Dedi Gilad took the initiative to change it. His vision was a home telemedicine kit to help parents perform standard throat, ear, eye, skin, heart and lung examinations of high enough quality to enable a remote diagnosis by the child’s physician. And it would not be limited to pediatric patients.

In 2012, Gilad and Ofer Tzadik founded TytoCare and spent nearly three years perfecting the technology and design. The Netanya-based company raised $18.5 million from investors such as Walgreens, and now is beta-testing its kits for home and clinical use.

The telehealth platform and home kit includes a modular device with a stethoscope, otoscope (used to look into the ears) and computer-vision camera. Exam results are transmitted to the patient’s chosen clinician via a secure connection.

Alternatively, the user can make a remote appointment with the doctor and perform the exams while seeing and talking to the doctor through Tyto’s video conference feature. This way, patients who feel sick can receive their physician’s feedback when an in-clinic visit isn’t possible. This is expected to help patients avoid unnecessary visits to the ER or to unfamiliar physicians.

“I could have nixed one ER visit tonight if my parent had a Tyto,” said a pediatrician involved in the company’s market research and usability studies with consumers and physicians in the United States. The parent in this case was concerned about a child’s skin rash that had worsened over three days. “I returned their page within 12 minutes, but the mom had already left for the ER so someone could look at it! Just her ER copayment would have paid for a Tyto.”

Telehealth services — encompassing a broad variety of technologies and tactics to deliver virtual medical, health and education services — are booming, especially in the U.S., where such visits comprise about 2 percent of about 700 million primary-care visits annually, according to Ophir Lotan, vice president of product for TytoCare.

“Dedi and Ofer started by analyzing and talking to the U.S. market and found that there is a strong need for lowering the load and cost as well as improving accessibility to healthcare services even from the comfort of consumers’ homes,” Lotan said.

He noted that more than half of all American hospitals currently host a telemedicine program and 90 percent of surveyed health care executives say their organizations have started developing or implementing telemedicine programs. The number of Americans using telemedicine services is expected to increase to 7 million by 2018.

“As the American Medical Association and healthcare community are moving toward telehealth and virtual consultations, they are looking for solutions that allow physicians to conduct examinations and go beyond current audio and video solutions,” he said.

TytoCare is now completing its Food and Drug Administration clearance process to enable marketing the device and the platform in the U.S. market, and the company is pursuing multiple business opportunities and collaborations.

“We will focus on a few pilots in the next few months to validate the product and the business opportunities,” Lotan said.

The retail cost of the kits has yet to be determined, but Lotan said the home version “will be affordable for a regular consumer to buy and may be subsidized in the future by insurers or employers for certain populations.”

The TytoPro kit, a more robust version that integrates images, audio recordings and notes into existing electronic health records, will cost closer to similar professional tools used by clinicians. This device enables physicians to examine patients in their clinic or in a home visit and utilize the information for patient education, motivating follow-up care, comparison over time or sharing exams with other clinicians for a second opinion.

Both versions will be made by a multinational medical-device manufacturer.

As for competitors, Lotan said another company is developing a similar concept but is at an earlier stage than TytoCare.

“There are smartphone add-on companies whose product usually deals with a specific exam (e.g. ears), but they do not provide smart guidance capabilities, online sessions or a complete telehealth platform and a modular examination tool.”

TytoCare has 25 employees, mostly working in R&D, and expects to increase its numbers by a third in 2016. An initial team has been recruited to lead the U.S. sales and marketing and operations out of New York City as well.