How Telemedicine Is Bringing New Life To The Term “House Call”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jiang Li, medical technology founder and CEO of VivaLNK, creators of wearable, medical grade devices for remote patient monitoring, wellness and telemedicine.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
A health scare opened my eyes to the need for technological advancement in medicine and sent my 15-year career in high tech in a new direction. At a routine health check, I mentioned some chest pain so the doctor took an ECG. The next thing I knew, I was at the ER under examination because they thought I might be in the middle of a heart attack. The reality of my health suddenly shifting changed me forever, and I noticed the technology in the hospital was, in my opinion, incredibly outdated. I knew emerging technologies could be properly implemented, so I took my background in flexible electronics to build the first commercialized electronic skin technology, called Digital Tattoo, which was launched in partnership with Google. This thin, band-aid like sensor has opened the door for exciting advancements in continuous vital signs monitoring. All of VivaLNK’s products, Fever Scout for temperature monitoring, and Vital Scout for monitoring stress, recovery, sleep, and other factors, have since been built on this technology.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I was, and still am, an outsider in the medical device industry. I continue to be fascinated by how the perspective of technologists can impact medicine and bring to light novel ways for technology to solve some of healthcare’s biggest pain points.
I met with an ER doctor once who was talking about how they have no way of monitoring infection once the patient is sent back home. Infection leads to readmission into the hospital, which is painful and expensive for the patient. In discussing one of the indicators that would be most helpful to know, fever came up as one of the biggest indicators of infection, and our product Fever Scout was born. The technology is available to consumers, and now, we are looking at ways the information this type of device gathers remotely on a patient can be more easily shared with a patient’s physician.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our technology is the combination of medical grade accuracy and patient usability, the two most important factors to consider in order for data and devices to be both useful to doctors and adopted by patients. We’ve done this by putting medical grade technology in small, flexible form factors, like our temperature tracking patch, Fever Scout. The patch can easily be placed anywhere on the body without being intrusive or uncomfortable, but also continuously and accurately tracks the body temperature and sends data to the app.
We are currently exploring how the temperature tracking technology can be used to remotely monitor patients when they are sent home from the doctor’s office or hospital, following surgery. An interesting trial is looking at the temperature patch being placed right at the wound site since rising temperature around the wound, say on your leg, can be indicative of an infection. The ability for doctors to monitor this remotely could not only bring down the number of unnecessary visits, but drastically improve preventative, proactive care.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
We have a new product called Vital Scout coming to market that is an electronic skin patch so it can be easily placed directly on the body to monitor wellness. Unlike typical consumer-grade wellness monitors, Vital Scout uses ECG sensors and HRV to monitor Heart Rate (HR), Respiration Rate (RR), and your level of stress, recovery, quality of sleep and activity/exercise intensity. The accuracy of the data we collect far surpasses the accuracy of wrist devices like your average fitness tracker. There is a lot of conversation around the use of wrist-based wearables in corporate wellness programs, hospitals, and other facets of healthcare, but unless the data is accurate alongside being easy to wear, wearables cannot truly impact treatment. We have a lot of interest from potential partners on how to use our technology to finally make this happen.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I read a book recently about extreme ownership. In a startup, there are never enough people to do all the work that needs to be completed, and there are people across many different disciples working together. Everyone has to be encouraged to own their part and then be held accountable to delivering on it. The idea is that you can’t blame your products, your people, your budget, the economy, or competitors for your failure. You are accountable for your success.
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 am learning all the time, and I’m grateful for every person I have learned from. I also am used to being more technical, but now I’m running a business, so I am always learning. Two people in particular that have taught two vital skills are a business mentor, who taught me about negotiating business deals, and my wife, who has given me great tips from her background in HR.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Precision medicine is very much focused on treating patients with minimal side effects, which is important. The goal is to move to “precision health,” where we have precise information on a patient at all times through remote monitoring so we can be proactive. Medical grade wearable technology can help with that. We see it already with some of the parents that use our Fever Scout product. There is a condition called Febrile Seizures that affects some children and is very dangerous. Body temperature spikes are one of the key indicators a seizure is going to happen. We hear from parents about how grateful they are to have our product to warn and help prevent an episode.
Can you share the top five ways that technology is changing the experience of going to the doctor?
1. In the future, you may not need to go to the doctor at all. At least not physically. Telemedicine is already making the old days of doctor “house calls” somewhat possible. But this is only for consultations primarily. Think of it as a check-in when the patient feels pretty good or has very simple healthcare needs, like a cold. Wearable medical technology can bring the hospital to the home. The doctor can get all of the information, meaning significantly more complex health indicators, that he needs on your condition without seeing you in-person.
2. Whether you go in-person or via telemedicine, when you meet with the doctor, in the future, he or she will have a lot more insight on your condition. This empowers them to make better treatment decisions since they can follow the patterns in your vitals and understand your symptoms overtime. Right now, if you need to be tested for an arrhythmia let’s say, you have to wear a bulky monitor for a couple of days to track your heartbeat. This gives doctor’s a decent picture of your condition, but they could learn so much more if they were able to see the patterns over an extended period of time. Access to more medical-grade information over the day-to-day life of a patient, especially for those living with chronic diseases, will help doctor’s more precisely treat you.
3. In the future, doctors will have all the accurate data necessary to truly power artificial intelligence. We’re currently riding the wave of digital health digitizing our symptoms and condition indicators. But in order for AI to be as powerful as it can, it needs the right and accurate data so the algorithm can provide insights that actually help in a treatment. Not all of the data feeding AI is “good” data. Until the quality of data rises, using AI to assist in diagnosis and treatment will be superficial at best.
4. Diabetes patients are already somewhat familiar with the future of medicine — having a complete picture of treatment from biometric data and patient behavior data. The insulin pump some patients wear to continuously monitor glucose levels and pump medicine into the system shows the power of biometric data combined with data on medication use. In the future, we’ll see a wider adoption of easy-to-wear, high precision treatment devices for all kinds of conditions. With these types of medical devices, doctors are able to understand the data on your condition both before and after you’ve had medicine pumped into your system to better understand your body’s reaction.
5. The future of going to the doctor is that the focus will be on preventing disease instead of frantically trying to cure it. Your doctor will be able to analyze all of the symptoms he or she will be able to track from the medical devices, sensors and patches you’ve been wearing. Early indicators will be caught and medicine will finally have transitioned to “precision health,” rather than the curative precision medicine.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” In healthcare in particular, I have learned there’s so much we don’t know, and still so much we can do to it make it better.
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 :-)
Jeff Bezos — His gradual transformation of Amazon as an online book seller to the enterprise it is today shows his dedication to continuous innovation.
Elon Musk — He is using the latest technology to change the driving experience and disrupt the industry. I would love to pick his brain about disruption as VivaLNK is trying to disrupt the medical device industry by introducing emerging technologies.