How Medical Wearable Technology Is Improving Patient Care
I had the pleasure of interviewing Waqaas Al-Siddiq, Founder and CEO of Biotricity Inc. Waqaas is a serial entrepreneur, a former investment advisor and an expert in wireless communication technology. Academically, he has been distinguished for his various innovative designs in digital, analog, embedded, and micro-electro-mechanical products. Waqaas has held several high-level design positions at IBM, AMD, and Intel, and has vast experience leading various groups through his board experience and executive roles within start-ups, mid-sized companies, and non-profits.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
We started Biotricity in 2012, with the aim of disrupting the healthcare industry. We always knew we were going to concentrate on remote patient monitoring (RPM), but we didn’t know at the time that our first device, Bioflux, would be tailored for the cardiac patient. We started doing research, and quickly found an untapped market; one that would become the springboard for our RPM platform. Chronic disease is on the rise, in part because people are living longer, and in part because of unhealthy lifestyles. Our healthcare dollars and resources are spent more on chronic disease than anything else and combating these ailments should start at the source; motivating people to live healthier while also being proactive about diagnosing diseases before they manifest as chronic conditions. With remote patient monitoring, we are helping to enact a preventive healthcare model — one that makes early detection of chronic disease a priority while also letting patients take a proactive approach to their own health. And, with more chronic disease patients effectively monitored in real-time from the comfort of home, we are allocating healthcare resources more wisely, by enabling doctors to concentrate on more urgent and acute cases.
I’m a bit of a high school drop-out! Actually, I attended university after the eighth grade, completing a dual bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering and Economics. Then, I worked on my two master’s degrees; one in Computer Engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology and one in Management where I focused on how to transform innovative ideas into billion-dollar markets. After University, I worked at IBM and Intel. My passion has always centered on bridging a vital healthcare IT gap. We know the healthcare system is failing many people, as doctors and resources are struggling to meet the demand and chronic diseases are on the rise. With technology quickly advancing, the question became, how could Biotricity leverage disruptive technologies for healthcare?
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Back in 2016, shortly after I had founded Biotricity, I gave an interview to CB Insights about the opportunities and challenges facing the medical device industry. Imagine my surprise when my interview was published as part of a series of interviews given by leaders in the healthcare industry! I was honored and quite humbled to be included alongside people like Alex Gorsky, CEO of Johnson & Johnson.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We always strive to be on the cusp of change; to anticipate trends before they become mainstream. We became pioneers in the remote patient monitoring sphere and we are always looking forward to see how we can leverage the latest technology, such as implantable medical devices and DNA sequencing, to enhance healthcare outcomes. When we first emerged on the scene, we realized that there was a gap in the wearable market that we could fill. There were a lot of fitness wearables, like the FitBit, but no medical-grade wearables. We had to carve out a niche for ourselves and differentiate our products from consumer-oriented wearables that didn’t offer clinical data.
Right now, we’re focusing on artificial intelligence (AI), and we are already working with a proof of concept version of our RPM hardware with embedded AI. The goal? Maximize detection and accuracy while increasing efficiency. We expect our next generation, AI-enabled Bioflux device will be the first of its kind in the marketplace.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Our biggest milestone this past year has been receiving FDA approval and getting our premier device, Bioflux, out into the market. It is already being adopted by health professionals and due to the positive reception we have been receiving, we have already started working on the next generation of the device, which will be the first to incorporate artificial intelligence. The great thing about going through the laborious process of getting an FDA clearance for a medical device is that we’re also fully equipped to leverage our proprietary remote patient monitoring platform for a full spectrum of applications. For instance, we’ve already received ethics approval to conduct a study that will investigate and validate a mobile wireless fetal heart rate variability (HRV) monitor. We’ll also expand into other monitoring applications, such as COPD and sleep apnea.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive in the tech space?
I’ve always felt that it’s important to create an environment comprised of three key factors. The first is a flat organization. You don’t want to create too many levels of management, because that detracts from efficacy and efficiency. Instead, you want to encourage your employers to be self-starters, to make decisions, and to take ownership of projects. Flat organizations allow managers to be more connected with their employers, which is important because you want to foster an environment where approachability and open communication flourishes.
The second factor is to facilitate an environment in which failure is OK. You should be able to set impossible goals and unreasonable timelines and, when you fail, you can rebound much quicker because the experience has taught you where you went wrong and what to do differently the next time around. Failure also encourages faster learning.
The final factor to help employees thrive is integration between different teams and levels of the organization. You don’t want your employees working in silos where no one knows what anyone else is working on. Greater integration among levels of an organization, especially between product and marketing teams, can lead to bigger and better insights.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I’ve been particularly fortunate to have had a multitude of people, all senior in their respective fields and industries, come into the organization and deliver incalculable value to different spheres of the Company. I had a group of doctors who I relied on extensively, and they even participated with financing in each of our early investment rounds.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe, at least I very much hope, that the mission of our entire company centers on bringing goodness to the world. I would go so far as to say our Bioflux device has the potential to save lives. About 47 percent of cardiac deaths happen outside of the hospital, which suggests that people who have heart disease aren’t catching the early warning signs. Bioflux takes real-time electrocardiogram (ECG) data from a patient and instantly transmits it to the doctor via 4G cellular networks. This enables the doctor to have access to a patient’s data before the patient comes back to return the device. Equipped with insights and trends beforehand, doctors can efficiently diagnose, prescribe medications, and manage therapy even faster. Without Bioflux, a patient would have to see their doctor in three visits instead of two to achieve the same result. And, more importantly, Bioflux can be programmed to alert the call center when patients have a cardiac event, which is crucial because time is of the essence and patients can die if they’re unable to call for help themselves.
Can you share the top 5 ways that technology is changing the experience of going to the doctor.
1. I think we’ll see more healthcare technology companies start to augment rules-based systems with voice recognition and voice analysis for a more interactive and natural patient-consumer experience. Similar to Amazon’s Alexa, patients will ask questions and artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled technology will parse data from a user’s medical records to consider probable causes, and then convey that information to the user in a natural and conversational way.
2. We’ll see medical devices increasingly relying on cellular connectivity, because it has an enhanced capacity to support IoT connected medical devices. Cellular connectivity allows data from devices to be collected and made available to physicians and caretakers remotely and in real-time. Patient health data can be stored securely in the cloud to prevent loss and allow physicians to access individual data as well as conduct population-wide analytics. Connectivity can also be achieved through wireless connections to smartphones or tablets, enabling smaller, easier-to-use devices by simplifying user interfaces and allowing patients to be monitored from home.
3. Now, more than ever, telemedicine will dramatically impact healthcare, as it can be used for remote patient triage, and to optimize emergency and urgent care delivery. Many urgent care centers are using remote patient triage to help determine which patients need to see a doctor urgently, and which ones can be assisted through a virtual “visit” first or postponed until a doctor’s visit is scheduled. Improving patient triage to focus on high-risk patients, and harnessing telemedicine to remotely monitor those with chronic diseases, will ultimately lower costs, increase efficiency, and generate revenue. Ideally, telemedicine should first be leveraged for chronic disease management. Effective at-home management of chronic diseases, facilitated with a combination of remote patient monitoring and telemedicine, would be the stimulus for this transition.
4. We will likely see healthcare granting more credence to artificial intelligence. The healthcare industry is still cautious about letting AI make diagnoses and suggestions and not without reason. Deep learning applications are unable to explain how and why they arrived at the results that they did — even when they’re correct. This year may witness healthcare providers and medical technology companies begin to experiment more boldly with AI, namely its ability to make suggestions and tailor feedback based on learning. As AI collects individual patient data and begins to learn how patients react differently to feedback, it can begin tailoring feedback that is personalized and predictive. Such feedback is the foundation upon which a preventive healthcare system is built.
5. Finally, I’d say the fifth way technology is changing the experience of healthcare is through robotic surgery. Robots are now beginning to perform some procedures autonomously, albeit with physician oversight. Today, the limiting factor for remote surgeries is network bandwidth and speed, restricting such procedures to hospital environments or locations where wired or highspeed WiFi connectivity and network bandwidth are non-issues. The start of the 5G network rollout promises a fast and secure platform for robots augmented with AI, which, once mainstream, could facilitate an increase in surgical efficacy, efficiency, and access to specialized surgical procedures. Intraoperative benefits aside, autonomous robotic surgery could comprise an entire system of pre- and postoperative patient care, in which remote monitoring and artificial intelligence could combine to provide real-time diagnostic feedback to maximize patient throughput and improve patient outcomes. Before surgery, patients could be remotely monitored in real-time, providing autonomous surgical robots with the necessary information to accurately identify potential issues that might arise during the surgical procedure, and improve diagnostic accuracy. Post-surgery, patients could also benefit from at-home, real-time remote monitoring to flag life-threatening complications, reduce recovery times, and decrease hospital readmission rates.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” -Thomas Edison
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
I would love to meet Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures. I’ve always admired his investment strategies; he focused on the intersection of tech and healthcare early on. I’m also a huge fan of the Gates Foundation, which is global in its outreach, innovative in its approach, and a catalyst for change. They don’t shy away from tackling the fundamental and acute crises plaguing the world today — from poverty to healthcare to education.