Neopenda, a medical device startup based in Chicago, is developing medical solutions for low-resource settings, and has recently unveiled its first product, a wearable vital signs monitor for newborns. The company has reported that almost 3 million babies die within the first month of life. Up to 98% of these deaths occur in developing countries, and in many cases these deaths are preventable.
A lack of resources in many developing countries can result in understaffing and insufficient healthcare equipment. This can mean that it is difficult or impossible for healthcare staff to adequately monitor ill newborns to assess if they are in difficulty and need treatment. To address this issue, Neopenda has developed a wearable baby monitor that can continuously monitor vital signs such as heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, and temperature. The device can then relay this information using Bluetooth, and an app displays the vital signs in an accessible format, and highlights if there are potential health issues.
You can see a video about the project below:
Medgadget had the opportunity to ask Neopenda co-founders Sona Shah (CEO) and Teresa Cauvel (CTO) some questions about the product and their future plans.
Conn Hastings, Medgadget: How did you become interested in this area, and how did the company come about?
Sona Shah: After spending a few months in western Kenya and subsequently in R&D at a pharma company, I became really interested in the intersection of engineering, healthcare, and international development. I decided to pursue my MS in Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University to follow this passion. Teresa and I met in a biodesign course at Columbia. We had the unique opportunity to travel to Uganda to conduct a needs assessment, and found that there was such a scarcity of functional medical equipment in so many of the hospital wards – primarily because the commercially available products did not meet the design constraints of low-resource hospitals. After the trip, Teresa and I decided to start Neopenda to engineer medical devices for where they are needed most.
Medgadget: Please give us a little background on the challenges facing healthcare staff in caring for newborns in developing countries.
Sona Shah: Over the past several years, we have spent significant time in low-resource newborn wards. We’ve observed, and learned from the healthcare workers, that the staffing and resources available in hospitals are not sufficient to care for the large numbers of critically ill newborns. It is nearly impossible for an overworked nurse to identify when a newborn is in distress because a single nurse can be caring for up to 40 newborns at once, without the tools necessary to provide high quality care. Newborns suffer most from this strain, as signs of their distress go unnoticed and they often die from preventable causes.
Medgadget: Please give us an overview of the vital signs monitor, and how it is tailored to a low-resource setting.
Teresa Cauvel: We’re helping to solve this problem of preventable mortality in low-resource facilities by creating a vital signs monitoring system designed specifically for the constraints and users in these hospitals. Our product is a wearable biometric monitoring device that continuously measures four crucial vital signs: pulse rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen saturation, and temperature. The health data from multiple devices are wirelessly displayed on a tablet in real time, and health workers are alerted when vitals go outside the healthy range. This centralized system helps over-burdened nurses better manage and provide high quality care to their patients. It improves speed of action for newborns in distress, and they have the best chance to receive the care they need to survive and thrive. The devices are reusable, designed for ruggedness and ease of cleaning, and are rechargeable with a battery life of several days.
Medgadget: Have you tested the monitor in low-resource healthcare facilities? During the design and development process, did you look for feedback from healthcare workers who would benefit from this technology?
Sona Shah: We are committed to engaging our users in every step of our iterative design process. To date, we have collected feedback from over 150 health workers across nearly 30 hospital in all regions of Uganda. Designing a solution with and for our users is at the core of Neopenda’s mission, and crucial for successful implementation in low-resource settings.
Medgadget: Was it a challenge to make sure that the product is affordable?
Teresa Cauvel: Absolutely, cost is one of our biggest design considerations. Not only does the product have to be affordable, but it must be designed well such that the maintenance is also affordable. We are working to develop a comprehensive solution that includes local training, maintenance, and product support. We see too often that medical equipment is donated to low-resource settings without any infrastructure in place for repairing and supporting it. As a social enterprise company, Neopenda’s business model is a bit unique—we strive to supply our healthcare solutions to customers in emerging markets affordably, with a local focus for sustainability.
Medgadget: What are your future plans for the monitor, and do you intend to develop any other technologies for the low-resource market?
Sona Shah: Yes. As biomedical engineers, we are naturally drawn to creating solutions to the most pressing problems; there is no shortage of important problems in health to tackle. While we have ideas for expansion of our vital signs monitor to other patient populations and additional complementary products, at this stage we remain focused on getting our neonatal vital signs monitor to the vulnerable newborns we can help most.
Link: Neopenda homepage…