We know the pandemic has affected the way we work, forcing enterprises to embrace work-from-home models. But it is also driving innovation in digital health, prompting the evolution of remote diagnosis and home care.
Award-winning company, Butterfly Network, is part of this change.
The digital health ecosystem
We know Apple is focused on developing its platforms to support digital health, but even it can’t invent everything, and the latest news from Butterfly Network should put smartphones in every medical bag.
A quick recap
A couple of years ago, Butterfly Network introduced the first handheld, single-probe, whole-body ultrasound system based on its own ultrasound sensor.
It has now introduced the second version of that sensor, which is faster, more accurate and delivers far better deep-imaging capabilities in the already-in-use system.
Why it matters
Ultrasound relies on expensive ($50,000-ish) and fragile piezoelectric crystal sensors. Butterfly developed a solution to replace those crystals with a single silicon chip that costs $1,999. It’s iPhone compatible, of course.
The system connects directly to the iPhone or other smartphone. Once connected, it lets users view the imaging on the device, which makes ultrasound as accessible as a stethoscope.
This is a transformation that makes these tools affordable, and mobile enough to transform ultrasound technology from large expensive systems patients must visit into mobile systems doctors can use when they visit you.
Butterfly’s highly portable product is proving its use during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Doctors are using its lung imaging capabilities to check for coronavirus symptoms.
This is far better than existing systems, the expense of which means patients must visit care facilities, placing themselves and others at additional risk. It means patients can be visited remotely and a diagnosis can be accelerated.
(Another up-and-coming smartphone-based solution from Gauss Surgical involves work on the development of an at-home antigen test for Coronavirus, but I digress.)
The pandemic is exposing new models of medical care provision.
Most doctors now offer remote patient diagnosis, and we’re seeing a lot of evolution in terms of technology-supported health. In the U.S., UC-San Diego Health uses a Jamf solution to support virtual doctor/patient visits across the hospital, reducing disease exposure. The idea is that patients are protected against unnecessary contact, while doctors (who interact with lots of people) can minimize the chance they may inadvertently spread infection.
It matters. As is well known, thousands of healthcare providers have already sadly and tragically died as a result of COVID-19 infection during the pandemic and dealing with this has accelerated distance care: 63% of U.S. hospitals and health systems now use telemedicine, up from 20% before.
Towards the next step
Some schools of current digital medical thought believe we are at an important moment in terms of care provision.
Use of connected technologies means medical professionals can diagnose conditions remotely, while trained responders (nurses, ambulance staff, medical assistants) can visit patients in their homes to use diagnostic equipment, or patients can measure themselves. Illustrating this, Mayo Clinic, Contessa Health and Intermountain Healthcare all introduced home healthcare schemes this year.
However, the idea that medical teams would be inclined to entrust remote patients with $50,000 imaging systems was never going to happen. The Butterfly IQ system costs a fraction of this; making this kind of technology more accessible and more portable will have an impact.
The company is now working with the American College of Cardiology (ACC) on a clinical trial that will allow patients with cognitive heart conditions to scan themselves. The iPhone-connected solution will simply share images with the remote user.
Straight for the heart
The company told me that an estimated 6.2 million adults in the United States have heart failure, there are more than a million hospitalizations of patients with exacerbation of heart failure, and 25% of those patients are readmitted within 30 days.
“Our collaboration with the ACC will help us design clinical trials and care pathways for some of the more challenging heart diseases and accelerate the adoption of point-of-care ultrasound by cardiovascular clinicians,” said Dr. John Martin, Butterfly Network’s Chief Medical Officer.
“One of the key targets is heart failure, with a goal to radically change monitoring. If patients can assess their status at home via AI-guided lung scans with their clinician or care team remotely, we can avoid unnecessary and costly hospital visits.”
The business opportunity
There’s an opportunity here, of course. What seems clear so far is that just as the pandemic accelerated existing trends toward WFH and the transformation of the role and function of the workplace, it is also accelerating adoption of digital healthcare solutions.
You can see this activity in the wild.
VC capital is flooding into the sector and big brands such as Amazon, Walgreen, CVS, Walmart and others are looking to develop health services in-store, including the provision of remote video-based doctor consultations.
A recent Accenture study predicts robots, smart devices (such as Butterfly IQ+) and human-AI collaboration will become critical to future healthcare provision, which will likely see remote professionals working with robotic and human assistants who deliver and collect diagnostic equipment safely and hygienically from a patient’s door.
While it may seem a little facetious to say it, in some weird ways it’s becoming true that an Apple iPhone a day may indeed keep the doctor away – but not too far for good health.
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