COVID-19 / Startups

This physician-founder is making a device to protect medical staff during intubation procedures

Dr. Steven Tropello is bringing experience and a network developed while building local startup CoapTech.

CareCove. (Courtesy photo)

This editorial article is a part of's Healthcare Technologies Month of our editorial calendar.

Working as an emergency and critical care physician at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Dr. Steven Tropello is seeing the lack of protective equipment for medical workers up close.

One particular area is during a procedure in which a tube is inserted into a patient’s airway, called intubation. It’s necessary to place someone on a ventilator, but presents danger of spreading the new coronavirus through the air or touch to doctors if they lack protection.

When Dr. Tropello was in line to perform such a procedure recently, someone handed him a garbage bag.

“I refused to put a bag over someone’s head because I think we can do better than that,” he said.

With emails from colleagues going to Lowe’s hardware store to find supplies, Dr. Tropello was resolved to create a better solution. As a cofounder of Baltimore-based startup CoapTech, he also had previous experience developing a medical device to draw on.

Forming a new company called Drape Medical, he invented a new device that’s designed as a “bulletproof vest” for providers during the intubation procedure. Called CareCove, it is designed to pop up like a tent or umbrella, forming a clear “cove” around the patient. Inside, it creates a negative pressure environment to keep the virus from spreading. It also has arm-length gloves for medical professionals, and is single-use.

With providers scrambling for solutions as they seek to find solutions that aren’t plastic bags, devices that can offer new forms of protection are getting rushed to production. One that has emerged is aerosol boxes, which are being shipped now by manufacturers that are using an open source design, like one Baltimore team. Given that there are healthcare professionals scouring hardware stores for supplies, they’re badly needed now.

But, given the needs the pandemic reveals, it also seems certain that new products will spring up, and prove to have application beyond the current crisis moment. The CareCove offers an example. It is being designed to protect multiple healthcare providers, whereas the immediate responses currently being offered only protect one. Dr. Tropello said it can also have applications for procedures beyond intubation, like CPR, endoscopies and heart catheterizations. He also sees use in military.

To bring it to fruition, he is drawing on knowledge and a network built launching CoapTech, which reached the key medical device milestone of receiving U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance for its feeding tube device last year.

He teamed with Jeff Katz, a former military medic who is the former CEO of Phoenix Medical Distributors and worked with CoapTech, is serving as president of the company. For rapid prototypes and manufacturing of the initial device, they called to Owings Mills-based Root3 Labs, which worked with CoapTech.

“I’ve been saying, ‘Were getting the band back together to go touring again,'” Dr. Tropello said.

And with the moment always reminding them of the need, “we’re running as fast as we can,” Dr. Tropello said. After three weeks they have a prototype and patent pending, now the team is looking to continue putting the device in the hands of providers to get a second iteration of feedback. The goal is to arrive at a product that will meet medical needs, and can be manufactured up to standards.

As they look to continue development, they’re raising funds through Indiegogo, and seeking local support.

Companies: CoapTech
Series: Coronavirus

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