When it comes to responding to the outer and inner senses, the central nervous system plays an important role. Our nervous system is responsible for communication between all the parts of the body. It helps us respond to changes outside and inside our body.
However, with an unfortunate breakdown of the nervous system due to a fatal accident or medical condition, one can lose sensation or ability to respond forcing the individual to entirely depend on caregivers.
While many of us show compassion towards individuals with neurological disorders, Angie Conley, the Founder and CEO, took an ambitious step ahead to help these individuals intensify their physical and social independence through assistive technology devices through her company, Abilitech Medical.
Through its feasible and comfortable innovative solutions, along with fully robotic support, Abilitech has effectively integrated healthcare with technology, working progressively to eliminate everyday challenges for individuals suffering from neurological disorders making their lives more self-reliant and individualized.
In the following interview, Angie shares her inspiration behind incepting Abilitech Medical and her views on how modern technology is transforming the healthcare industry.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
Please brief our audience about your company, its values, vision, and mission.
Abilitech Medical brings innovative solutions to the market that allow people living with upper-limb neuromuscular conditions to function independently. The company’s first product, the Abilitech™ Assist, is a one-of-a-kind, powered orthotic device providing functional assistance and support to both the elbow and the shoulder, to improve the lives of people in the U.S. affected by neuromuscular weakness.
By solving this overlooked healthcare challenge, Abilitech is changing several lives, from helping people to feed themselves, brush their teeth, and perform many independent tasks and activities that were not possible before the introduction of the Assist, in 2020.
Approximately 75,000 patients in the U.S. with muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, spinal cord injury, and eventually people who have suffered a stroke will benefit from the Assist device.
If you are disabled in your lower body, there is a wheelchair for mobility; if you lose a limb, there are prosthetic solutions that can help you live independently. But if you have weak arms and cannot feed yourself then in this situation one has to depend on their families and caregivers. Others require an assisted living facility so that they can be helped with everyday tasks — activities most people take for granted.
The Abilitech™ Assist facilitates independent control of the arms by supporting and assisting both the shoulder and elbow for people with minimal strength. Software customizes the spring tension to lift objects such as a fork, phone, or water bottle, supporting items that weigh up to 12 ounces.
Abilitech assistive devices are designed to bring life-changing benefits to people with arm weakness, including increasing physical independence and social independence because the devices increase the ability for the patient to engage with others more fully, may have some economic savings, as a result, of decreased reliance on caregivers and avoiding or delaying the cost of a skilled nursing home.
Personal care assistants cost an average of $28,000 per year and assisted living costs can be up to $250,000 per year. In some cases, people using the Assist may even be able to return to work or stay in the workforce longer.
The Assist is the first in Abilitech’s future suite of products, which includes a powered handgrip device and a fully robotic voice-controlled arm-hand combination assistive device.
Direct patient experience has led to optimal comfort, style, and weight of the device. Abilitech is conducting Muscular Dystrophy clinical trials for the Assist at the University of Minnesota and Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare.
Clinical pilot studies are planned to study stroke rehabilitation at Houston Methodist, and Cerebral Palsy at Texas Children’s Hospital. Other partner organizations include HealthPartners and Allina Health Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute.
What makes your company a preferred choice over your competitors?
The Abilitech Assist is the only body-worn assistive technology device that empowers a movement of both the shoulder and the elbow. The hybrid technology uses springs, motors, and software to optimize the support needed for everyone without overriding their existing function.
Each patient can dynamically adjust their profile with the touch of a button to support them in lifting objects of varying weights. The Abilitech Assist is lightweight, comfortable, and easy to use.
Being an experienced leader in the healthcare sector, share with us your opinion on how the adaptation of modern technology in the healthcare discipline has transformed the industry and what more could be expected in the near future?
Assistive technology is a booming category for the med device industry. There have been many recent breakthroughs by assistive devices, including the Abilitech™ Assist. The largest focus has been focused on powering the legs or working on brain interface technology, which is invasive, expensive, and not accessible for several years. Abilitech is focused on the upper body and works with existing function, as opposed to fully robotic support, which would override patient strength and weaken the arms. The Assist device has been called “the wheelchair” for the arms and “power steering for the arms” by Abilitech patients and their caregivers. Abilitech has plans for more breakthroughs for the upper body, including assistive devices to support hand function. The Abilitech team expects there to be a continued transformation in assistive technology applications.
Taking into consideration the current pandemic, and its impact on global economies, how are you driving your organization to sustain operations and ensuring the safety of your employees at the same time?
Abilitech is providing online telehealth assessments to people in the safety of their own homes, allowing consultation with the company’s clinical advisory team. An added benefit to providing online assessment vs. only in-person appointments is that Abilitech can reach people throughout the U.S. more efficiently. The virtual assessment is efficient and saves time for both parties, allowing the Abilitech team to work with the patients, payers, and clinicians to begin the process of securing a device and helping find a solution faster.
Abilitech reimbursement consultants can also effectively interface with patients online. Abilitech’s technology platform allows the team to work from home efficiently, limiting the need to travel to and work inside its Eden Prairie offices. Abilitech’s clinical partners and sales team are located throughout the U.S., so working remotely comes naturally for the company and is effective for the business.
How do you plan to scale your company and/or its operations in 2021?
With the recent FDA listing of the Assist, Abilitech is focused on working with patient advocacy groups, patient recruitment through social media marketing, and partnerships with leading institutions to increase awareness of assistive technology as a solution to increase independence. The company is also growing by adding leaders to its team with deep experience in these disease states and bringing medical devices successfully to market.
About the leader
Angie Conley is the Founder and CEO of Abilitech Medical. Angie’s inspiration for Abilitech traces back to her previous role as executive director at Magic Arms, a nonprofit that created a 3D printed exoskeleton to help children affected by arthrogryposis, an orphan medical condition, use their arms.
Angie still recalls, during that time, the look of delight on one child’s face as he moved his arm, on his own, for the very first time. His parents were similarly awestruck. It was such a moving experience for Angie that drove her to solve the problem that thousands of Americans must deal with every day.
During her tenure at Magic Arms, Angie received many emails and voicemails asking if the organization’s device could help them or someone, they love who has. MD, ALS, or SCI. But Magic Arms was focused on pediatric orphan conditions and had a very limited budget. It simply did not have the resources to develop a new technology to help adults and scale the technology to meet the needs of many people and evolved into a medical device company.
Eventually, Angie realized that her background in MedTech at Medtronic, coupled with her experience at Magic Arms, could be leveraged to start a new company focused on transforming lives: Abilitech Medical.
In 2016, Abilitech raised $2.3 million to form a world-class team focused on solving the problem of restoring basic functional abilities to people with severely limited upper-limb strength. Abilitech is focused on the needs of a market estimated at more than $2 billion.
To date, Angie and her team have raised more than $10 million, used for the development of the Assist, obtaining FDA registration (which was accomplished in 2020), completing additional clinical studies, and providing for commercial expansion in the U.S.