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This Healthcare Startup Lights Up IV Lines to Cut Out Human Error

by Muriel Vega

In fall 2014, entrepreneur Hans Utz spent long days in the ICU, watching over his newborn who suffered from a rare congenital heart defect. Despite excellent care from the medical staff, Utz would watch the nurses struggle as they tried to trace every single one of his son’s 18 IV lines up the pump.

“It was the one time they interrupted what was otherwise unbelievable care and said, please don’t talk to me while I do this,” Utz tells Hypepotamus. “It was enough of a jarring difference between the rest of the care that you noticed as a parent.”

This task could last from a few to over 30 minutes if the nurse had to change multiple medications. After a shift change, each nurse would have to re-trace each IV line and change the medication.

This attention to detail is important, as each year up to 9,000 people die as a result of a medication error in the U.S., including improper dosage. However, the process remains incredibly inefficient.

“I was astounded at the fact that that was how this was done, that it was required that you touched the entire length of the line,” says Utz.

Through his research, he saw some hospitals use a label system by placing the name of the medicine at the end of the lines for faster identification, but this also invites human error — medicines can still be mislabeled, and once you increase the number of lines over 10, nurses aren’t able to easily distinguish each IV line.

“It all starts to blur together and kind of look the same. That’s why despite the markings and the labels and despite all these other attempts, the nurses would still literally touch the entire length of every line every time they had to change a medication,” he says.

Utz conducted extensive customer discovery not only with nurses, but with hospital administrators and doctors.

The entrepreneur, also a co-founder of startup idea incubator The Combine, saw an opportunity to use his mechanical and industrial engineering degrees to eliminate human error and create a more seamless processes.

He kept thinking back to lighted cables used in prom limos and tequila bars. After surveying the nurses at his son’s hospital, they immediately saw the potential of this idea.

In 2016, Utz started working on a prototype IV line that would light up from pump to patient, and founded startup Lightengale to market the product to hospitals. The product uses a no-heat, light-diffusing fiber optic cable in the outer wall of the IV line to light up the line.

There’s no impact to the dimensions of the medicine tube and the fiber optic light does not touch the medication.

Utz is looking to go to market with a “laser pointer” approach. The laser pointer look-a-like clips to the end of the line; the nurse simply clicks the button to light up that particular line.

In the long-term, Utz is working on adding these light-up capabilities to the pump itself.

Lightengale will begin selling directly to hospitals following the manufacturing of the prototype, and Utz is currently in fundraising mode as he continues the FDA clearance process. He’s looking to initially raise $250,000.

“I have not heard from a single nurse that this isn’t needed. It’s a legitimate problem and this is a solution very centered around making the nurses’ day easier,” says Utz.

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