Privacy is key for companies leading medical tech revolution

Summary

A Flemish firm is pioneering self-testing and remote monitoring, with patients’ resulting health data only ever seen by the patients and their health-care providers

For your eyes only

Medical technology is a booming business. Personalised medicine and telemonitoring are two evolutions that are currently reshaping the health-care landscape in Flanders, and a local company is making sure the data gathered from patients is stored with care .

Patients, whether recovering in a hospital bed, visiting their GP, consulting a specialist, receiving care from a nurse at home or just following a prescribed regime, are going to be dealing more and more with all sorts of devices and apps.

That smart technology will be able to register basic health information such as blood pressure, heart rhythm and cholesterol levels automatically, so caregivers can concentrate on more complex tasks. For IT companies with a feeling for medical technology, the need for these devices and the accompanying software represents a huge business opportunity.

But only those firms that succeed in matching their products and services with the data culture in health care – where privacy is king – will get there.

Strongest asset

Even though we throw a large part of our privacy out of the window nowadays through using services like Facebook and Google, we’re still very reluctant to share some of our most private information: medical records.

The federal government hasn’t yet decided who should keep and guard that data. But with the digitisation of public health care increasing, there’s an urgent need for an efficient and watertight system.

In the meantime, individual hospitals or groups of hospitals are managing our electronic health-care records. These institutions apply the most stringent privacy standards to private companies that are paving the way towards the digital future, insisting that the latter may not inspect the data they handle.

Our devices send the data directly to the point of care’s electronic data file, meaning no third party has access to patient information

“Excluding every third party in the data flows we handle is one of our strongest assets,” says Joris Wille, CEO of BeWell Innovations, a Flemish medtech company that specialises in connected medical technology for telemonitoring and patient self-testing. “Our devices send the data directly to the point of care’s electronic data file, meaning no third party – not even us – has access to patient information.”

BeWell, founded in 2010, has two products in its shop window: one promoting hospital care efficiency and the other enabling telemonitoring.

The first product, a point-of-care self-testing “kiosk”, has been implemented in several hospitals, including in Leuven and Antwerp. The kiosk (pictured) enables patients to measure basic parameters like their blood pressure just before they consult a specialist.

In the oncology department of Leuven’s University Hospital, which deals with about 200 patients a day, this resulted in a saving of 10 hours a day. “This means that oncologists can spend more time on other, more complex aspects of a patient’s disease,” says Wille.

Earning confidence

The company’s second product allows physicians to remotely monitor patients with chronic diseases through self-testing at home. “We incorporated this solution into a user-friendly app that runs on every smartphone,” explains Wille. “There’s a cloud-based platform that gathers the information sent by the app and enables physicians to evaluate the patient’s condition.”

Again, Wille insists that his company doesn’t intervene in the relationship between patient and physician. “The hospital and the caregivers look after the medical side, we take care of the technical side.”

We’ve been caught out a bit by our fast growth, so we really need to scale up the company in a short period of time

Wille acknowledges that it’s common today in business circles to equate big data with big money. “But if you want to realise sustainable growth, you have to earn the confidence of the data providers and respect the privacy regulation.”

Nevertheless, it looks like funding is finding its way to Wille’s company, which is based in Ranst, Antwerp province, and employs seven people. Ark Angels Activator Fund (AAAF), a Hasselt-based venture capitalist fund, has decided to invest.

Human capital is flowing towards the company, too, as two “business angels” will reinforce the team with their personal business expertise. These are former entrepreneurs who are sent by BAN Vlaanderen, a government agency that aims to encourage contact between starting or growing companies and private investors.

“We’ve been caught out a bit by our fast growth,” Wille admits. “So we really need to scale up the company in a short period of time. The investment from AAAF is worth €1 million, and this will certainly help us to stay on course to capture the Flemish market.”

Photo courtesy BeWell Innovations