The BodyGuardian's technology is almost elegant in its apparent simplicity. A sensor taped to the chest securely transmits a patient's ECG, heart rate, respiration and activity rate over a cellphone, to the Cloud to a doctor's iPad or laptop for real-time monitoring.
But this early warning system of sorts, recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use with people who have non-life-threatening irregular heartbeats, is part of a trend blending information technology and health care data that is expected to be the next big thing in medical technology. And the folks at Preventice, the Minneapolis-based company that developed BodyGuardian with the Mayo Clinic, have high hopes for potential for their technology in the future -- including possibly monitoring and helping treat people with diabetes, or asthma, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Not bad for a firm that started in 2007 with an idea to use technology to better connect the world's 7 billion people with its 60 million health care workers. "We founded the company with a vision to use mobile technology in the health-care space," said Jon Otterstatter, Preventice co-founder, president and CEO.
It just so happened that when Otterstatter took his idea to the Mayo Clinic, the health care icon based in Rochester, Minn., he also was looking at ways to take its services mobile. Specifically, a Mayo team led by Dr. Charles Bruce had been working on ways to provide an early warning system for people at high risk for atrial fibrillation.
"It was a good idea at a good time," Otterstatter said.
Mayo now is an equity owner of Preventice, which also has operations in Fargo, N.D., and in Rochester. Arthur Ventures of Fargo provided seed money. Other partners -- a major life science company and a major computer chip manufacturer that Otterstatter would not name -- have joined the effort. In all, the company has received less than $5 million in capital investment, yet will have earned $10 million in revenue by the end of this calendar year.
"Everyone sees the potential," Otterstatter said.
Since 2007, Preventice has developed 60 applications for smartphones, including an app to help people navigate their allergies and another that allows doctors and patients to share information and better manage care plans. It's all meant to better connect health care to the people who need it, said Dr. Drew Palin, Preventice's medical innovation officer.
"What we're trying to do is develop systems that engage people who care," he said.
Bruce, who was born in South Africa and who lost his mother to a stroke, dares to dream of a system in which Mayo doctors in the United States can monitor a heart patient living in a remote village in South Africa and advise his medical team there. He said that this technology can make Mayo a "digital health-care provider."
He added: "We have a real opportunity here to leverage technology to really revolutionize the way we deliver health care."
The key to the success of such ventures, analysts and advocates acknowledge, is the evolution of health care from a "pay for service" model to one that values continuing services using such technology to improve patient health and lower costs.
BodyGuardian is not yet available commercially, although it will be sold to hospitals and clinics and will be prescribed by physicians by the end of the year. Ongoing clinical trials for expanded uses and expanded markets must prove more than it is safe and effective to win over insurance companies and Medicare. They must show that the technology saves money in the long run. Spotting a problem before it sends somebody to an emergency room, keeping someone from returning to the hospital after surgery, noticing when they need to increase their medication dosage -- all these things must show savings over time.
"This to me looks like wonderful technology for follow-up or compliance or monitoring at-risk patients," said Thomas Gunderson, a senior analyst at Piper Jaffray. "But you don't have a system for paying for this yet."
James Walsh • 612-673-7428