Publications

Biospectal - Measuring Blood Pressure via Smartphone

Analytics has undergone great developments in the field of medicine in the last decades. Biospectal, the start-up from Canton of Vaud, is trying to develop and improve a technique unchanged for the past 100 years - blood pressure measurement.

Eliott Jones, CEO and Co-Founder tells us how Biospectal intends to accomplish this.

The blood pressure cuff is over 100 years old, is used daily and can still be found in every doctor's practice today – is this the very object you wish to compete with?

Yes, precisely! Except it’s not a fair fight, really. Because the idea of virtualizing that basically unchanged, cumbersome technology into software, with the ability to distribute it anywhere in the world to the place of need within seconds, is a revolution that is simply impossible with a physical device. Other than with the traditional cuff - where “at home” blood pressure measurement and other metadata are isolated from the clinical process - we produce portable data and analysis that can be seamlessly shared and integrated with electronic medical records and clinical care systems.

From the user’s point of view, there is a huge benefit regarding convenience and ease of use. The traditional cuff is uncomfortable (and frequently painful), bulky, loud, and inconvenient to transport. Imagine pulling out a boxy cuff at a restaurant and starting the loud groaning pump. Not going to happen. Then imagine setting your phone discretely onto your fingertip for about 20 seconds and then quietly slipping it back into your pocket – while the acquired data is automatically stored for you, too. A disease with no actual symptoms and no truly portable, easy method of monitoring it, hypertension remains the number one chronic condition in the world. In fact, it affects between 30 and 50 per cent of the adult population in Europe and the U.S. alone. It is because of Biospectal’s combination of instant accessibility at a global scale as well as the availability on the smartphone, which we all carry around with us, that we are extremely excited about the potential to make a real mark against the hypertension epidemic.

Your application is supposed to work without an additional, external gadget. Until today, such applications have been unreliable, designed for entertainment. How do you ensure reliable evaluation?

At the time of the founding of Biospectal and in fact prior during 6 years of research in the operating room under Dr. Schoettker’s leadership, we have always adhered to our foundational principle of scientific rigor and clinical validation of our solution. We are here to help improve lives on a global scale through clinical application. This means, of course, that we spend a great deal of time and effort in conducting clinical trials in order to gain complex data-scientific insights and algorithm sophistication, which many others would not pursue when rushing a “toy” onto the market. This is not what we are about, neither on a professional nor on a personal level. Dr. Schoettker and I have been lifelong friends. We share a similar creative drive to innovate. Now, he and I have brought our decades of respective professional experience together, to bear on something we feel could make a real impact in the world. On a very personal level, we now want to turn our skill and knowledge into making a serious and meaningful impact on a large scale for the population. So, one of the first things we did at Biospectal, was to spin up a clinical study for an early validation to prove the thesis of the algorithms Dr. Schoettker had been developing in partnership with the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM) in Neuchâtel.

With promising results of that first validation study, we have now been continuously pursuing rigorous medical and scientific research and development. The algorithm and its application in the smartphone are non-trivial, and we have subjected ourselves to multiple clinical studies to gather more data in order to refine the algorithm for the smartphone. These include major studies in the operating room and at the hypertension clinic of the University Hospital Lausanne (CHUV) as well as at the Erasme Hospital in Belgium. I have also spent a great deal of time developing partnerships and planning global studies for low resource settings in collaboration with top global NGOs in public health, with the support of organizations such as the Gates Foundation, USAID, and other operations on a larger level, who already have clinical resources in the field around the world.

Hypertension is the most common chronic disease worldwide with an estimated 1.3 billion people affected. Your application could become a gold mine and set things in motion in the healthcare system.

As I mentioned before, Dr. Schoettker and my own primary drive is to make an impact, but I believe that the “healthy by-product” of bringing such an exciting technology onto a global market will be a highly profitable business. Given the numbers involved and the near zero friction of distribution as software through the cloud (as opposed to shipping boxes of cuffs that break, need service, become outdated, etc.) we can rapidly address a myriad of applications and markets. It is indeed a different situation altogether when your phone is a blood pressure monitor, coach and a real connection to the care provided by your doctor. One thing that is specifically exciting to us is, that we are able to reach markets of all income levels efficiently, so we can do good while doing well.

And now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we find ourselves in the midst of acute need for remote patient monitoring, which has become critical to delivering care. The tele-health movement existed before, but has been accelerated dramatically by the virus. Things were already in motion, using technology for a more efficient care delivery model. And advanced technologies, such as Biospectal’s solution are the future from a cost of care perspective as well as a more participatory role for patients in the clinical process. Another thing with business and the changes it will enable that I have not mentioned, lies in the data. We will have an ever-growing wealth of valuable data being generated that has never existed on a global scale before. This information and its analysis are important to all kinds of players in the health care delivery chain.

Assuming the application is ready for the market. What would your target groups look like?

We’re targeting the logical groups to begin with, but there is a twist when you are super accessible as software on the phone. We will begin with patients with diagnosed hypertension and more specifically, with those currently under active treatment. User behaviour is difficult to change, but people who are already making changes in their lives because of the threat their disease poses to them are more open to new ideas about how to conquer it. Also, measuring blood pressure will become part of the medical regimen a patient has to apply.

Hypertension is insidious because there are no symptoms. We plan on helping people in the general population to discover that they are hypertensive and, in turn, help them live a longer, healthier life because of their newfound knowledge. In many ways, we are excited to make clinical tools and processes more democratic, thus enabling patients to participate more actively in their health management than before. Educating the patient consumer has all kinds of benefits, from peace of mind to biofeedback and behaviour change.

Biosensing is a word often heard in the healthcare industry. More and more often, healthcare technology is becoming smarter and smaller to be used directly by patients. Is this trend continuing - what changes can we expect in our healthcare system?

Biosensing has become a hip word and it is overused. But despite that, there has been a coming wave driven by maturing IoT [internet of things] device capability, connectivity and data standards – and then there’s Covid! Covid has taken a beginning wave and caused a time warp into the future, where remote monitoring is essential. Just look at the pulse oximeters flying off the shelves in the U.S. Patients and doctors are now scrambling to find ways to monitor patients outside the hospital.

There are many very exciting opportunities for technology to create empowered consumers, more efficient care delivery and lower cost to the medical system as well as higher quality and longevity of life. I predict, especially because of the Covid situation, that the health care system will transition to introducing “low value” home activity data to patient management systems, while at the same time maximizing the value of the patient interaction activity in the hospital and clinic to the highest degree. Diagnostic measurements can and should now be performed outside the traditional clinical location. I did a lot of work in the early days of IoT and health wearables assessing various devices – most of which failed because they didn’t provide an easy enough or meaningful enough experience, and the data was difficult to propagate to the clinician. But it is a normal part of the early stage of new technology adoption. Things are changing now and phones are basically connected mini-supercomputers with software on them able to provide clinical grade performance. That’s an inflection point.

August 11, 2020

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