Written by Stephanie Baum at MedCity News, September 21, 2015
Among the estimated 6.3 million children who die each year, the majority succumb to preventable diseases such as pneumonia, dehydration due to diarrhea and malnutrition. A group founded by a University of Vermont Medical School pediatrician believes that a smartphone triage tool aimed at community health workers in developing countries could go some ways to reducing preventable child deaths in these areas. He also believes it has potential applications in underserved areas of the U.S.
In a phone interview, THINKmd founder and CEO Barry Finette told MedCity News it closed a seed funding round of $350,000 this summer in an oversubscribed round to advance its flagship product MEDSINC. The acronym stands for Medical Evaluation and Diagnostic System for Infants, Newborns and Children.
Here’s how it works. Users are prompted to ask a series of questions to assess heart rate and respiratory rate. They’re also directed to ask patients things like Why is the child at the clinic? Is it for a fever, cough, or diarrhea? If they are vomiting, how often? Are they breastfeeding or drinking normally, more than normal, less, or not at all? Based on the responses, the app determines the severity of the child’s condition.
It doesn’t expect users to be able to operate medical equipment. To gauge respiratory rate, users are guided to click on a big red dot each time the child takes a breath. It works in a similar way for figuring out heart rate — users are guided to press the button each time they feel the child’s heartbeat.
Finette said so far the apps have held up to testing, with 80 percent to 90 percent correlation with physician assessments. He said it expects to roll out the app in early 2016.
It wants to do more validation testing in Burkina Faso in collaboration with its health department and UNICEF. The recent military coup may pose a challenge to doing that. It has already tested Medsinc in Ecuador and Peru.
One challenge for the company is the next step — even when a diagnosis is made, how will the access to resources issue be resolved? It’s not an easy question to answer, but the idea is that the app will help identify the need for specific medication for aid providers working with those countries, such as UNICEF.
Some companies have taken the approach of using telemedicine to overcome the overwhelming need for physicians in some developing countries, but Finette makes the point that this doesn’t really resolve the problem as it still requires a physician to be involved and even in the U.S. there’s a shortage.