Imagine a better way to monitor patient status. Something that is portable, non-invasive and sends information to doctors’ phones — or tablet — in a rapid, understandable way.
Now think of a patient in a northern location, or in transit on an air ambulance, from a remote nursing station, or bedside in a local hospital.
Decision-making is all about knowledge. Flosonics Medical, a Sudbury biotech company, has invented the Flopatch, a wireless sensor that automatically monitors and relays vital signs of patients.
It is described by NORCAT as “the world’s first disposable ultrasound bandage and the med tech start-up’s proprietary technology. The FloPatch is an automated fluid response ultrasound system, in the form of a wearable sensor that adheres to the patient’s neck, that provides non-invasive means for physicians, nurses and paramedics to monitor critically ill patients in real time during the early stages of shock inside and outside the hospital to help determine whether intravenous fluids are a viable and effective treatment option.”
“The device itself eliminates the need for complex bed-side monitoring equipment,” said Joe Eibl, the 38-year-old CEO and co-founder (one of four) of Flosonics Medical.
What does the Flopatch look like and how does it work? The peel and stick patch is single-use.
It is easily applied, and the self-powered unit sends information for 24 to 48 hours depending on the frequency the physician needs updates. The weight is minimal, and dimensions and shape do not interfere with patient movement.
“It is about the size of an iWatch … light at 25g or 0.88 ounces,” Eibl said. “This is part of a suite of products we see on the horizon. It really requires almost no training. Maybe some orientation, but it is easy to understand. We are getting inquiries from around the world.”
In September 2019, Gisele Roberts, manager of innovation and commercialization at Laurentian University tweeted in support of the device. “This is the kind of innovation taking place in Sudbury! @Flosonics shrinks the ultrasound machine to the size of a bandage — a Northern Ontario success story!”
Technicians, software, venture capital people and professional investors who have successfully built other health-tech, med-tech companies, plus a clinical advisory board bring sound leadership to the organization.
“We have been accepted into a number of accelerator programs, and the trajectory to go to market is clear,” Eibl said.
Like all good products, the Flopatch began as an idea. In a casual conversation, Eibl’s university roommate, an intensive care physician, told him how limited ultrasound machines were in monitoring fluid responsiveness in patients. He described to Eibl how critical that information is for doctors and nurses to have, but how time consuming and costly it was for hospitals to have staff constantly monitor the machine.
“Doctors need to know what is going on in in real-time. Until now it required an ultra-sound technologist to run it,” Eibl said. “In critically ill patients – shock, sepsis, low blood pressure – we try to prime the pump (a.k.a. the heart) by adding fluids. But, about half of patients have heart issues. Saline solution, or Ringer’s lactate, can work to increase volume, but not if the heart is not working right.”
This is where the Flopatch comes in. The team went to NORCAT to develop their idea.
“We then came to NORCAT because really we had no idea which way was up,” Eibl said. “Coming out of academics and clinical medicine you don’t have a lot of business awareness.”
Product market fit, intellectual property management, reimbursement, the manufacturing process, were just a few of the things they had to learn fast. And just as the product is finally ready, the world went topsy-turvy.
“It’s a weird time to be in product launch,” said Eibl with a shrug, referring to the pandemic. “The channel to get it out there is difficult right now. No flights to see potential clients, regulators, nor manufacturers.”
This doesn’t stop Eibl and his team from using other platforms so they can have face-to-face contact. Business goes on despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have 15 in the team, some external contract people, and we are on the cusp of a major advancement,” Eibl said, adding knows the process could be ramped up rapidly to meet need. “Growth has been very organic, and by in large most of the team have arrived here through networking. We are still really small.”
Of course, there are regulatory controls around medical devices, but many have already been addressed. Flosonics highlights how Sudbury’s technical prowess in mining can be adapted to other sectors and other industries, Eibl said.
“Sure we are known as a mining town, but our skills in remote sensing in that industry is changing the view of us,” he said.
Like mining, medicine is being transformed by technology.
Real-time data from a chopper on the James Bay coast could be life-saving. Eibl credits many layers of support in getting where they are and going forward.
“Our trials at Health Sciences North Research Institute has been a great help. We are all optimists, and have the right mindset to deal with the challenges of bringing this to market. It will make a difference in health care.”
Learn more about the Flopatch and Flosonics by visiting their website FlosonicsMedical.com.
Hugh Kruzel is a freelance writer in Greater Sudbury.