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18 April 2019

Best-named startup battles hospital transformation hurdles

Sweati and Imperial College London have successfully demonstrated that Sweati’s sweat-reading wearable patches are able to continuously monitor glucose, lactate, and hydration levels in patients, providing hospitals with a way to continuously observe patients in a pretty non-intrusive fashion.

Routine observations are a necessary part of treatment, and provide the data needed to track a patient’s condition and recovery. Typically, they are collected every few hours, usually by a nurse – tracking blood pressure, oxygen saturation levels, and temperature. This has to take place through the night too, and is vital for ensuring that a treatment plan is working.

With devices like Sweati’s, richer data can be gathered without being any more obtrusive than a thermometer and blood pressure cuff. Placed onto the patient’s skin, the sensor data can be harvested by the mobile devices that nurses are increasingly using to enter the observations data into. All that data can then be presented to applications that can be used by doctors as a diagnostic tool.

A primary objective from the healthcare provider’s perspective will be to reduce the patient’s discomfort in hospital, as well-rested patients heal faster and can then be discharged more quickly. Consequently, new devices making use of IoT technologies can not be more intrusive than the existing method, unless the intrusion has a very tempting benefit.

To this end, Sweati is a great example of non-intrusion – no more burdensome than the name tag that gets affixed to a patient’s wrist. If Sweati’s data is accurate enough, then it could be a lot less intrusive than the three separate tests it hopes to replace. Testing glucose levels usually requires drawing blood from a finger prick, as is lactate level testing, but there are a few different ways of testing hydration levels – most of which involve drawing or passing fluid.

One of the main applications for the device will be for diabetic monitoring, both in hospitals and also remote healthcare and as part of a patient’s regular routine. Sweati could also pivot completely, if needs be, to sports and consumer wellness markets, if it finds hospitals too tough a nut to crack. Test projects with sports teams and military units are underway, to this end, with Sweati hoping to gather enough data to prove to health regulators around the world that this is a product that is safe enough to use in hospital environments.

“Imagine a device that will be able to tell you when to fuel, when to hydrate and what pace to run at,” said James Mayo, founder and CEO of Sweati. “That means no more hitting the dreaded wall while running a marathon. Sweati will make working out enjoyable and efficient. For diabetics, it would mean no more blood draws interrupting their day as the patch will continuously send them notifications. Every member of society will be able to maximize their personal performance but, crucially for members of the military, we have the ability to save lives with no more heat casualties.”

The device itself is made to be disposable, and is about as thick as two credit cards and small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Its fabric housing makes it easy to apply to patients, and it is able to transmit readings every ten seconds. It sends this data, via Bluetooth, to a local mobile device, which could be the nurse’s handheld unit or just a home-user’s smartphone.

Sweati cites two different market forecasts, to illustrate its potential. It says that the consumer wellness market will hit $3bn in 2025, and sweat measurement will account for 25% of that. The other is glucose measurement for diabetes, which is expected to hit $11.4bn in 2023.

There’s scant detail available about the firm behind the patch, but these sorts of devices are going to become increasingly commonplace in hospitals. They provide a low-risk means of gathering additional data about a patient, and could provide immediate returns on investment if they begin to alter patient outcomes. The sorts of data available could enable early care interventions, or more targeted pain or medicine applications, highlighting to staff which patients need closer attention and which ones can be largely left alone to rest.

Of course, one of the biggest challenges for this crop of IoT-enabled devices is the issue of regulation. In the consumer space, it is quite easy to bring a product to market – although much harder to make a business of it. In the healthcare sector, litigation and concern for patient wellbeing has made the providers very conservative, when it comes to adopting new equipment and techniques.

Startups like Sweati could enjoy huge success, if they are able to show that a small pilot had a concrete outcome, laying the groundwork to be adopted at a much larger scale. Of course, they might never get the sales meeting to pitch their new ability, because healthcare, like most other vertical markets, is still dominated by a handful of very large vendors and suppliers. The consumer market might be the easier market to break first.