LGTmedical’s “Phone Oximeter” Could Prevent Deaths on a Global Scale

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Death is inevitable, but preventable death is a tragedy. In the poorest regions of the world, tragedy happens everyday. The patients are younger and sicker and often there’s little or no availability of medical equipment to support diagnosis and treatment.

For instance, pneumonia kills more than 1.1 million children under 5 years of age every year. Pre-eclampsia, the second leading cause of maternal death, kills 76,000 women annually and results in 500,000 infant deaths in the developing world. These diseases can be managed with simple treatments if an early diagnosis can be established. Many deaths could be prevented with simple mHealth technologies such as mobile pulse oximetry.

Vancouver’s LGTmedical is on a mission to significantly reduce preventable deaths on a global scale. They’re commercializing mobile health technologies to meet the enormous global need for accurate, accessible and, most importantly, affordable vital signs monitoring.

Launched in March 2012, LGTmedical is a spin-off company operating in partnership with the University of British Columbia (UBC), the Child & Family Research Institute, and BC Children’s Hospital.  They have been supported with research funding through their partnership with UBC and BC Children’s Hospital. They’ve also received related research funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and other sponsoring foundations and government agencies.

mHealth applications have the potential to play an important role in reducing global health inequities. The platform for mhealth is emerging – “care anywhere.” In addition to diagnosis and treatment in emerging markets, healthcare is getting personal. mHealth offers personal toolkits for predictive, participatory, and preventive care. Markets such as consumer self-management and remote patient monitoring for chronic illness management are growing rapidly.The most significant challenge for vital signs monitoring in mHealth is to deliver easy-to-use, accurate, low-cost solutions that operate across the major affordable mobile device platforms.

LGTmedical CEO Tom Walker has 25 years of global medical device industry leadership. He’s held senior management positions with Physio-Control and Eli Lilly, Cardinal Health and AGFA HealthCare. “I saw J. Mark Ansermino and Guy Dumont (lead researchers) on TV talking about a Phone Oximeter. I didn’t know much about that, other than I understood Oximetry and had a phone. The spark was from my conversation with Mark because of the work being done in reasoning how to oximetry and how to measure patients blood gas to the developing world.”

“The real eureka moment was understanding that there was actually energy coming out of the audio port to drive the LED’s in an oximeter sensor. I saw two things happening, one was that this potential life saving technology was being used in an effective way in the developing world through their research. And, number two was the fact they were driving to a technology process that would allow us to make it accessible and affordable.”

The Phone Oximeter - phone and sensor

Pulse oximetry is an important diagnostic tool to support the management and treatment of respiratory disease. In high income countries like the United States, where more than 75% of total healthcare spending is on people with chronic conditions,value of diagnosis and treatment through pulse oximetry increases dramatically in resource-limited regions. In both cases, accessibility and affordability are key barriers to rapid adoption.

LGTmedical has solved these challenges for diagnostic-quality vital signs monitors. Through the development of a unique and universal audio-based interface – the Vital Signs DSP™ (Digital Signal Processor) – standard medical sensors can now be connected to mobile devices to provide ultra-low cost, mobile vital signs monitoring.

Walker saw this through the lens of dealing with health inequity. “If you look at you look at low or even middle income countries, there’s this huge health inequity compared to high income countries. The reason for that is in general, poverty. Anyway you cut it though, poverty is global. You don’t have to look any further than our own backyard.”

He added further that “it’s seeing the potential to be a for profit company, with the dominant focus on saving lives in developing countries. It’s like a reverse innovation model. Building something that’s needed for the health of women and children of Uganda, while also serving the North American and European markets.”

“While we have blood pressure monitoring and temperature devices on our product roadmap, it’s oximetry that’s going to save the most lives. This relates very specifically to our mission. First and foremost we want to make a difference. And then secondly, we want to prove a model that’s sustainable while making a difference.”

Dr Peter von Dadelszen in a birthing hut in Bangladesh

The Phone Oximeter™ will be available for sale in Spring 2014. It combines an app with a low-cost medical sensor that transforms mobile devices into accurate and reliable pulse oximeters. This medical device provides non-invasive measurements of blood oxygen levels using a light sensor clipped on a person’s fingertip. It is powered by  LGTmedical’s Vital Signs DSP™ interface that enables the sensor to simply be plugged in to the audio jack on the mobile device. It features an intuitive symbols-based display, so anyone can use the device.

Walker’s ultimate focus is figuring out how not-for-profit, and for-profit enterprises can work hand in hand. For instance there’s a need for sensors related to Pre-eclampsia research that’s in part being supported by the Gates Foundation. As Walker points out “even with $26.5 million can still leave some needs.” The Sensor Project. has been launched through UBC’s Department of Medicine and illustrates the importance of this work. Walker and the LGTmedical team are fully behind this project. A $100 donation will make a significant difference.

John Gray

John Gray

John jumped into the start-up world in early 2009. He was co-founder of Mentionmapp, a visual analytics company that was acquired in October 2011. John is Launch Academy's Program Facilitator, and is leading their Lean Entrepreneur Program. He's a freelance writer, focusing on keeping the humanity in our conversations about technology. John has a B.Ap.Sc. in Communications and a B.A. in English, both from Simon Fraser University.