How this all started...

It was late 2012, I was a Predoctoral Fellow in the Program on Personalized Health Care at the University of Utah. Our interim Director at the time was an Obstetrician by training and believed that if any care could be better personalized, it was obstetric prenatal care. He thought, "What can we do to personalize prenatal care?"

Prenatal care is important to identify potential pregnancy complications, provide education, and plan for delivery. The American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists guidelines say a woman should have about 14 regularly scheduled visits. To a seasoned obstetrician, this amount of prenatal care may be more than necessary, particularly for mom's with previous, uncomplicated, vaginal deliveries. So the questions was proposed "How can we reduce the amount or intensity of prenatal care for low-risk mothers?"

We initially thought to reduce the number of prenatal visits, but were concerned that would reduce patient satisfaction. So the next option: replace several in-person prenatal visits with telemedicine visits, keeping the total number of visits the same as standard prenatal care.

Telemedicine innovation

So as the technology person of the group, it was my responsibility to figure out how to make this all work. I initially proposed using Skype or Facetime because these solutions were easy to use, familiar to the patients, free. Unfortunately, the University wouldn't allow us to use these options because they were not HIPAA compliant.

So I began searching among HIPAA-compliant telemedicine solutions for a simple, low-cost option to use for the study. I was shocked to find solutions that were expensive and complicated to use, required proprietary hardware, and/or required patients to register and login. Furthermore, many solutions included extra functionality, such as personal health records or scheduling, that we didn't need or want.

All we needed was a simple, low cost, secure telemedicine solution, but nothing like that existed. Frustrated by this, I began looking for ways to build this solution.

Fortunately, the University of Utah Health Sciences sponsors an annual medical innovation competition for students called Bench2Bedside. I pulled together a team of students to submit the idea for to the competition and built a simple prototype for demonstration at the event.

This competition was our first breakthrough. We were fortunate to be selected by attendees for the "Consumer's Choice Award", along with its $3,000 award.

We used this award money to build the first functional version of for use in the prenatal care study. This version was very basic but it didn't require any downloads to use, it was HIPAA-compliant, and free to use.

As started to be used in the study, we identified many improvements that we could make such as a customizable waiting room, patient check-in and queue, and provider login. Over the next year we were able to continue to secure small innovation grants to fund ongoing development.

Also during this time, was selected as a New Venture Development technology of the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute at the University of Utah, which brings together MBA and graduate students across campus to analyze market opportunities and develop a successful business plan for innovative technologies.

This team worked hard to develop a business plan that meets the telemedicine needs of clinicians for free, while generating revenue to sustain and grow the business. The plan they developed was so successful, it won the 'Best Written Business Plan' at the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge, a competition of over 120 business ideas submitted by students across the state of Utah.

Following this success, was officially released for any healthcare provider to use for free in June 2014.

The award money and innovation grants received by the University of Utah was critical to its early nurturing and development. Furthermore, the dedication of so many individuals including clinicians, patients, leaders, students, developers, and believers was so important for shaping what the product became.

Without this essential support, would not be where it is today. Much thanks goes out to the great folks at the University of Utah, and the programs they have setup to support innovative ideas like

Dylan Turner

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