Telemedicine backpack helps bring doctor's care to low connectivity areas

By Jonah Comstock

The promise of telemedicine is 'care anywhere', but what happens when 'anywhere' is an area with little to no connectivity or reception? Lexington, Massachussets-based SwyMed is looking to tackle that conundrum with its DOT Telemedicine Backpack, unveiled today in advance of the HIMSS Annual Conference in Orlando next month.

The lightweight backpack contains four high-gain antennae, two modems, a rugged tablet, a fifteen-hour battery, and various tools like stethoscopes and ultrasounds. The idea is for paramedics and home healthcare workers to increase the amount of care they can provide via telemedicine, diminishing the need for expensive emergency department visits.

"At the end of the day, the first responders, there’s only so many things you can train them on or that they should have to be responsible for. If they have to be an IT technician as well as a healthcare technician, you’ve vastly increased their workload," Jeffrey Urdan, chief operating officer of SwyMed, told MobiHealthNews. "What do you today? You dial on the radio, call on the phone, you describe what you see, the doctor kind of makes the best guess at what you’re describing and it’s just a longer, more complicated interaction. With this technology, you walk into the house with a backpack, you fire up a video conference, and the doctor can interact with the patient directly. The doctor is in the kit."

The backpack can potentially be used for a lot of use cases, not just for first responders but also for making preventative visits to people with known chronic conditions who might have a hard time getting to the hospital, or for nursing homes that want to cut down on unnecessary hospital visits.

"We’re actually working with Texas Tech on a program right now, and they’ve got these enormous travel distances," Urdan said. "The current standard of care is to go to the closest hospital, stabilize a patient, [and] a lot of time that means they drive a long way, they get to the hospital, and then they get transferred to the University Medical Center and that’s another hour. The idea is to be able to do that triage in the field. So you send the patient where they need to go, once. For that kind of thing it’s a pretty cool application."

In rural areas, Urdan added, the cost savings are pretty apparent. "If you save one helicopter flight, you’ve just paid for the whole system," he said.

Evie Jennes, chief commercial officer at SwyMed, says that the final product of the backpack is the culmination of several different streams of R&D for SwyMed.

"I think you have to have all the pieces of the puzzle," she said. "And it took us some time to put them all together. Our software is key, because the software needs to work very well on low bandwidth. ... The second thing is the hardware configuration. That took months and months. And the third piece –  and a very important piece – is the relationship we have with Verizon. We’re part of their priority program. When you combine those three things together, you can deliver the DOT Telemedicine backpack that we released today."