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Insight Optics (IO), an innovative, inspirational and ambitious start-up out of Atlanta, GA in USA, has set its sights on eliminating preventable diseases using the power of technology, easy-to-use, and affordable business models that create natural incentives for participants. It is hard to imagine a better young founder for this than Aaron Enten who brings an ideal intersection of solid grounding in healthcare, technology and building a start-up. After his undergraduate focus in bio-engineering based medical devices and instrumentation design, he added business acumen by completing masters in innovation & design for bio-engineering at Johns Hopkins University. And then followed that up a dual-degree, PhD and MBA, at Georgia Institute of Technology. Like many startup founders, Aaron had his own brush with the problem IO is zeroing in – ophthalmic disease at an early age. That led him take a deeper dive on the domain that culminated in building IO and focusing on the preventable diabetic and hypertension drive retinopathy – a disease afflicting very large population of nearly 154million in USA alone, and another 20-times more people in rest of the world. Per CDC, 90% of blindness is preventable if patients follow recommended annual eye-exams. However, in the current healthcare set-up, that is not happening for several reasons, chief being lack of awareness, affordability, resistance & difficulty to visit eye specialists, and transportation. IO has built an innovative model that overcomes these barriers.
Interview with Insight Optics CEO- Aaron
IO takes a platform-based approach to attack the key barriers discussed above, which would then make it easy to extend it for other diseases in the future. Solution combines several transformational technologies in the market – computer-vision, machine-learning, cloud-orchestrated delivery and processes, and the ubiquitous smartphone. And at the same time, it avoids the complexity so that it is easily used by the average support staff in a primary-care physician (or generalist) office. It takes the easily available ophthalmoscope (which is generally used only by eye specialists, i.e., Ophthalmologists, who knows specific things to examine with it), pairs it with the camera of a smartphone. The combination is then easy-to-use by a staff member to make a video recording of the back of the eye of the patient. IO’s software runs its algorithms to ensure there is adequate quality (i.e., presence of necessary elements), and instructs the staff member to re-take by making the provided adjustments (e.g., focus or angle) if needed. Once the recording is complete, it then creates the technical analysis to aid the eye-specialist in his examination, and sends it, over its secure and HIPAA (i.e., medical and privacy protection regulations in USA) compliant cloud, along with all the associated patient details to the eye specialist with account on its network. This makes it easy for the Ophthalmologist, who can be located anywhere in the world, to complete an asynchronous evaluation and provide report back (along with appropriate recommendations – either no issues or a follow-up for treatment of the identified disease condition) to the primary-care physician who then contacts the patient and stay involved in the care.
Description and Compelling Attributes
The overall model brings out several very compelling attributes to make it a perfect solution: a one-time created technology infrastructure (hardware, software, cloud) that then can potentially scale infinitely in delivery, access and cost; innovative use of widespread medical professionals (generalists) who are also the most commonly trusted physicians by the patients; easy asynchronous leverage of scarce specialists who can be anywhere; eliminates patient need to locate, schedule, and travel to the specialist who are hard to get on schedule; avoids significant extra cost for the patient; creates natural incentives for both physicians to participate (since they both get reimbursed in an equitable manner by the insurance payor or by patient); use of existing staff without need for further complicated training; use of easily available devices. All this adds up to a very affordable, easy to access and deliver, scalable solution that leverages the power of technology and innovation to focus on one of the worthiest domains (eyes) and preventable diseases. We all know the cost savings from timely prevention than a treatment when the disease has already advanced and may result in blindness besides too high a cost.
IO’s business model, centered on a centralized cloud-based infrastructure, and smartphone-endpoint and app, makes it very easy to replicate the overall deployment in any community and country. Most countries share the general characteristics of the healthcare setup – prevalence of general practitioners and limited availability / reach of eye-specialists. Further, it can be easily deployed through even rural clinics that may be staffed only by a lower-level professionals (e.g., a nurse or medical technician).
Given the main people costs in the overall solution are medical professionals and staff, solution pricing (a subscription model) is easy to adapt to local cost economics. Ophthalmoscops are widely available and their cost would be easily recovered within first year even at the price points needed in the developing world given the expected patient screening volumes that needs to be serviced.
Technology infrastructure can easily be adapted for variety of languages and technical support requirements are fairly basic, which means most of that would be easily done locally, with IO’s central team providing support for the most complex cases.
IO platform makes it possible to imagine a world where most of the preventable blindness is eliminated for ALL people, regardless of where they live and economic tier they are in.
With proven need for disease prevention approaches, and transformational opportunities that several of the technologies used here represent, it is very much possible that IO platform can extend to provide simple-to-use and highly scalable solutions for many diseases. Specially, chronic diseases where closed-loop participation of many entities distributed over wide geography (e.g., family members, nurses, hospitals, physicians, community aid-workers, device makers) can create a very low-cost, scalable and accessible solutions.