Health / Startups

How ‘the Redbox of outpatient services’ could change doctor’s visits

Medex Spot uses robotics and video to give patients a check-up without anyone else in the room. CEO Charlie Nahabedian and his team think the technology can increase access to medical care.

Inside MEDEX Spot's "Unmanned Micro Clinic." (Courtesy photo)

With experience leading teams at Bell Labs, AT&T and his own company that helped to bring cordless phones, mobile receivers and cellphones to the world, Charlie Nahabedian knows the importance of adapting innovations to what the world needs.
That served him well in his latest venture, which involves using telecommunications to put kiosks in public places. The project started as a video phone booth that would provide an easier way for foreign workers to send money home from a mall, and catch up on life.
The idea was seen as having promise in 2007, but Nahabedian ran into the fundraising climate in the midst of the recession. The seven-figure raise he needed wasn’t happening.
But the idea of a public kiosk didn’t go away. After speaking to a visiting nurse, Nahabedian realized there was a potential to offer a similar service that would allow for patient monitoring, instead of money transfers.
“We did what they call in the entrepreneurial space a pivot, and we focused on healthcare,” Nahabedian said.
The result is Medex Spot.
It’s a soundproof, self-cleaning cabin that provides instruments to record patients’ information, and a video link to a healthcare professional who can take measurements and talk with the patient. Nahabedian and the rest of the team behind the product envision an “easy and growing market” for the product in high schools, supermarkets, senior centers or other locations that fall under the “convenient” umbrella.
“It’s a convenient treatment and triage point, and if the business model and the costs are such, then all kinds of locations will want it because it will bring traffic,” Nahabedian said.
Drug stores like CVS are already betting their future on retail clinics and urgent care facilities are growing. In the meantime, telehealth is also seen as increasingly necessary as a way to reach underserved areas where getting to a doctor’s office has traditionally required long drives. The Medex Spot team sees micro clinics as the next logical development for primary care clinics.
The technology, including robotically-controlled stethoscopes and cleaning processes that are used in the International Space Station, allows patients to check in and check up without a medical attendant onsite.
“The only reason we need a human being is if the patient dirties or litters the cabin, and we have a system that determines that,” Nahabedian said.
That unmanned aspect is key to keeping the innovation economical.
“That brings the break-even point per cabin to around five or six patients per day, on average,” Nahabedian said.
It can also open up other possibilities, like 24-hour access to healthcare, and the potential to lower costs for employers who could install a unit and wouldn’t have to let their employees leave work everytime they had a health issue. If conditions are found that need further treatment, patients are referred to doctors.
Nahabedian, who is CEO of the company, said three medical centers are already interested, but further developments have to be made to the prototype before he’s ready. To get there, the company is raising $2 million.
In January, the company became a member of the Chesapeake Innovation Center in Odenton. Nahabedian recently moved to Potomac, and has found the CIC-run incubator to be a “proactive” environment that helps him make connections. He brings more than 40 years of experience to the state’s entrepreneurial community, having helped to develop the first portable cellphone (later selling it to LG) as well as touch screen kiosks at the EPCOT Center.
“I find it exciting when you can have a multi-faceted team look at situations and bring technology, marketing, finance and operations together in a new and different way to solve problems,” he said.
That’s apparent in the team behind Medex Spot. Cofounders Vince Watterson and David Sturgess bring experience in telecommunications systems and design, respectively. Along with two other team members and four advisors, they built the prototype using money from a $500,000 friends and family round. Now, they’re looking to raise $2 million for further development.
He acknowledges fundraising is like finding a needle in a haystack, with “about a million haystacks out there.” Nevertheless, the potential need and innovations involved make it a product Nahabedian is calling the “Redbox of outpatient services.”
“And Redbox wasn’t taken seriously in the beginning, either,” he said.

Companies: Chesapeake Innovation Center

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