More than 26 million Americans suffer from asthma-related symptoms on a daily basis, and the economic cost of them missing work or school due to trouble breathing can surpass $3 billion a year. Asthma attacks often occur without warning, resulting in two million emergency room visits a year.
But what if the asthma sufferer knew when the next attack was coming?
Health analytics startup VitalFlo puts machine learning and predictive analytics to work to gather actionable insights and recommendations before those attacks come. The idea came out of an innovation class at North Carolina State, when the former president of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology came to students with the challenge to find a way to monitor patients outside of the clinic.
James Dieffenderfer, Ph.D., was a student in that class. He came up with a device similar to a spirometer, a medical device used in the clinic to test how well the lungs are working.
Now-CTO Dieffenderfer co-founded VitalFlo in 2017 to redefine the standard of care for asthma sufferers with a combination of the handheld medical device and a digital management app to track lung health and medications at home.
“We are now focused on remotely collecting data that helps us forecast patient risk of an asthma attack,” CEO Luke Marshall, Ph.D., tells Hypepotamus.
“We have predictive Google search capabilities, but there’s still no way to forecast an asthma attack. We’re stepping in and providing clinical decision support to clinicians and helping them keep track their patients, how they are doing today, and what triggers of an asthma attack could be coming up in the near future so that they can make adjustments to their patients’ therapy,” says Marshall.
VitalFlo gathers data in three distinct ways. First, it uses its proprietary, self-powered spirometer to capture lung function three times a day by measuring the flow of an exhale and syncing the breathing measurements with the smartphone app automatically.
“If you rely on a clinical parameter at the doctor’s office, you get maybe one or two data points per year,” says Marshall.
“That’s not enough to create any sort of predictive analytics as we want more data that is still doctor-trusted.”
The second set of data comes from inside the home, through third-party devices that measure air quality, mold, and other asthma triggers. And then the third set of data is from outdoor air quality reports from the EPA — think low air quality days, smog, pollen, etc.
This data all gets fed into the VitalFlo platform, which shares insights and alerts with the patient’s doctor to help them make treatment decisions. The doctor can view each patient’s status, create monthly reports, and update their electronic health records through a dashboard. They also see available reimbursement codes for billing to easily submit to insurance.
For example, VitalFlo sends alerts when patients drop below a certain lung function.
“When the patient is at risk of an attack, it notifies them so they can avoid missed days, trips to the emergency room, or worse.”
Marshall explains that their goal is to support the doctor by helping them gain the trust of the patient. “We’re just providing the doctor with the best, easiest to access information to help them make those decisions.”
VitalFlo plans to move into the market with a SaaS model of a fee charged to doctors per patient, per month. They’re currently undergoing a six-month clinical validation study with 48 patients, spread throughout the year to test different seasonal conditions.
Marshall says that they’re hoping to receive FDA approval for the device toward the end of the year.
In the meantime, they are working with other hardware providers to test the software and generate revenue through pilots.
The Raleigh-based startup closed $200,000 in pre-seed capital from private investors earlier this month to support the remainder of the clinical trial and new partnership formation.
This past week, the team traveled to Atlanta to pitch VitalFlo at the Atlanta Hardware Cup pitch competition, which they won.