It’s hard to read Peter Thiel’s Zero to One book and not start thinking in an entrepreneurial way. Afterwards, I thought about where we have gaps in healthcare. There is a lot of technology out there (apps, wearables) right now that has empowered patients to take charge of their own health. One area that seems to be lacking is in women’s health.
There are a number of critical challenges in women’s health right now that could benefit from innovation.
First is the growing problem of access to women’s health providers, particularly Ob/Gyn’s, which will only increase in the years to come. Demand remains constant, while supply is dwindling, because of factors such as an aging workforce and its low appeal to medical students related to demanding work hours and professional liability. The Association of American Medical Colleges anticipates a shortage of 159,300 Ob/Gyn’s by the year 2025.
Second is the persistent scourge of preterm birth. According to the CDC, preterm birth affects 1 in 9 of pregnancies and is the number one cause of infant death and long-term neurologic disability in the U.S. It has been estimated that preterm birth costs our healthcare system more than $26 billion a year, though the societal costs are likely much greater.
Thinking about these two major problems made me wonder if anyone out there is working on technology that could positively impact either of these problems. That’s how I stumbled across and connected with Bloom Technologies, a healthcare tech startup based out of San Francisco. Bloom is currently developing a wearable contraction monitor that could help pregnant women determine first, if they are having contractions, and second, if those contractions are of the true, labor-inducing variety, or the false, Braxton-Hicks, variety.
Obviously, this product could have a great deal of potential. It’s almost a right-of-passage in pregnancy for women to make frequent visits to the hospital only to be sent home, after being told that it’s not “real labor” yet. Might this wearable device be able to tell patients when it’s the real deal? And are there patients that would be interested in such a thing? Molly Dickens, the head of Content and Consumer Experience at Bloom, feels that women are often confused and overwhelmed by all the rapid changes of pregnancy and anything that could help them to better understand what’s going may be welcome.
I think the Bloom sensor has even greater potential beyond just the obvious. In light of our impending Ob/Gyn shortage, might we be able to use this device to remotely monitor patients in the future? Could this be integrated into a telehealth approach for obstetrical care in the future? Remote visits could obviously help to decrease over-utilization and costs of healthcare. Also, in light of our epidemic of preterm birth, might this help us to detect preterm labor earlier, and therefore intervene in a more timely manner? I would love to see this device studied in clinical trials.
The other thing that I find exciting about this product is that Bloom is developing this device to be of clinical-grade quality, one that could potentially rival current inpatient systems for contraction monitoring. Currently, in Ob/Gyn, we use tocodynamometers, which measure pressure changes in the abdomen to get information about contractions. Toco’s (as they’re called) are accurate as far as determining the timing of contractions, but pretty dismal at telling the strength of uterine contractions. Bloom CEO, Eric Dy, shares that he and his colleagues are working at the circuit level on the signal, size, quality, and power of these devices to assure an exceptional product that–unlike traditional tocodynamometers–will measure electrical signals much like cardiac monitoring (the uterus, after all, is a muscle, too). If these devices are better than the traditional toco’s used at every hospital across the country, we might see a real transformation of inpatient obstetrics as well.
I, for one, would also love the convenience of being able to just check my phone to see what’s going on with my patient & her baby, instead of having to solely rely on a single, static inpatient site to evaluate them.
In addition to contraction monitoring, Bloom is also working on other technologies that will help women to gain valuable information about their health from conception to the postpartum period, which they hope will ultimately help to drive better outcomes.
If you’d like to learn more about Bloom, check out their links below: