The internet has allowed us to connect with each other in a way that we never thought possible. This advantage is applicable all the same in the healthcare discipline. In fact, this expandable nature of the internet sparked the rise of the telehealth industry.
Through telehealth, physicians and other healthcare institutions provide care services remotely through video conferencing, phone calls, and a plethora of innovative platforms.
The telehealth industry has been growing at an exponential rate – even more since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. A major aspect driving this growth is that people are becoming more concerned about their health and want to monitor their it remotely so they can focus on work or spend time with family instead of endless in-person consultations.
Visionflex is one company that is riding the waves of this growth. Based in Sydney, Australia, the company’s cutting-edge technology provides seamless access to high quality healthcare anywhere, anytime.
In the following interview, co-founders Mike Harman and Peter Shandley take us through the company’s ongoing journey, its USPs, and their vision for the company’s future.
Following are the highlights of the interview:
Please brief our audience about Visionflex, its mission, and the key aspects of its stronghold within the HealthTech niche.
Visionflex was founded in 2014 in Sydney, Australia by electronic engineers, Mike Harman and Peter Shandley. Their mission was to make health services accessible across the vast continent of Australia, which is home to some of the world’s most remote and isolated communities. Drawing on their combined 40 years of industry experience, Mike and Pete’s goal was to design and manufacture a telehealth system for health practitioners that enabled them to perform remote medical examinations.
The Visionflex system is world-first due to its unique clinical functions and its ability to support a suite of approved medical devices making remote diagnoses a reality. For the first time, Visionflex enables multiple clinicians to simultaneously connect with remote patients via real-time video conference to check patient lungs; heartbeat; pulse; blood sugar, and oxygen levels. Clinicians can examine the ear, nose, and throat; and perform detailed wound examinations, plus many other patient observations via Bluetooth and USB-connected medical devices.
The Visionflex system can securely collect, share, and save patient health data to an electronic health record for future review. Today, the Visionflex telehealth solution is enabling the remote delivery of health services to improve patient health outcomes across Australia.
Visionflex is utilised in rural and metropolitan medically remote settings, including farming communities, prisons, remote Aboriginal townships, outreach clinics, and isolated worksites. It is also used by clinicians in major hospitals and medical specialists. Visionflex is currently in the process of introducing its telehealth system to Australia’s expansive aged care sector.
Tell us more about the telehealth solutions that give your company a distinctive edge to stand out from the competition?
The Visionflex solution comprises the following:
- The ProEX telehealth system: The desktop ProEX Telehealth Hub and ruggedised tablet version, the ProEX Mobile, are our easy-to-use flagship telehealth devices. At the push of a button, medical specialists can connect with patients via high-speed, HD video conference. The ProEX supports the Visionflex suite of approved medical devices and features a sophisticated patient data management system. Patient images and videos can be securely stored and shared in real-time.
- VF Sync is the powerful software that underpins the ProEX system. Using VF Sync, multiple ProEX telehealth units can communicate securely and share patient data/media in a customised network, and upload to an electronic health record. Store-and-forward capabilities enable mobile units to synchronise automatically when reconnected to the network. Encrypted patient data meet HIPPA requirements.
- Approved medical devices: The ProEX supports a suite of approved medical devices including – otoscope, stethoscope, ultrasound, endoscope, pulse oximeter, ECG, thermometer, blood-pressure monitor, weighing scales, blood-sugar monitor, dental camera, colposcope, and our popular GEIS General Examination Camera HD.
- Vision is our newest telehealth product: Vision is a unique video conferencing platform designed specifically for telehealth. Vision can be used on internet-connected devices including PC, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Vision has the built-in clinical capability to collect, view and share patient data including, blood pressure, ECG, temperature, pulse oximetry, blood glucose, weight.
- TrueSteth is the world’s first digital stethoscope app that transmits stethoscope audio digitally without loss of quality. The remote physician has complete control of stethoscope functions. TrueSteth is truly a game-changer for health professionals who practice remote medicine.
The Visionflex system is unique: Unlike traditional video conferencing platforms, Visionflex technology has clinical functionality designed specifically for collaborative medical settings. Visionflex makes remote clinical examinations and diagnoses a reality.
Visionflex software and hardware telehealth technology is revolutionising the way a physician/nurse can examine, diagnose, monitor, treat, and engage with, remote patients. For the first time, Visionflex allows multiple clinicians to simultaneously connect with remote patients via real-time, HD video conference.
It performs clinical examinations using devices including an otoscope, stethoscope, ultrasound, endoscope, colposcope, pulse oximeter, ECG, thermometer, blood-pressure monitor, weighing scales, dental camera, and GEIS General Examination Camera HD. Patient data and media can be viewed on-screen in real-time, and stored in a customised network, or saved to an electronic health record for future retrieval and review.
The Vision telehealth platform features new bandwidth-optimising technology that delivers diagnostic-quality video and audio, as well as high-speed data transmission and end-to-end encryption. It also features built-in clinical functions to collect, share, and store patient data/media.
Vision’s collaborative functions allow multiple video-conference participants to control remote examination and room cameras, annotate documents and images, and control a stethoscope used on a remote patient via the TrueSteth digital stethoscope app. Vision is compatible with internet-connected devices, transforming smartphones, laptops, and tablets into mobile devices capable of conducting clinical medical examinations.
Visionflex telehealth solutions provide clinicians and their patients with easy access to health professionals for continuity of care, and services including health prevention, treatment, and chronic disease management. Telehealth is an efficient, sustainable use of resources that lowers costs associated with travel for in-person health appointments.
Visionflex products are IEC 60601 compliant, making them suitable for clinical medical assessments. Visionflex is certified ISO 13485 2016 for the manufacture of non-sterile image capture and data storage systems for medical devices.
As a seasoned business leader, what is your opinion on the effects of the pandemic on the healthcare sector, and what were the challenges the company came across?
The arrival of COVID-19 saw an unprecedented increase in the number of telehealth consultations for the aged, unwell, and the general population. In Australia, this has been supported by the Australian Government funding Medicare rebates for telehealth.
The government has guaranteed telehealth rebates will remain, in some form, post-pandemic. Domestically, we have also seen a government-endorsed push for telehealth systems to be utilised by all providers in the aged care sector.
Our biggest challenge during Covid has been the ability to support our dealers internationally with in-person visits, and also to visit our domestic customers for training and installations. Of course, we do connect with our dealers and customers using the Vision platform but there is nothing better than a face-to-face chat with the people who benefit the most from our technology.
With continuous development in technologies such as AI and ML, what is your prediction about the future of the telehealth solutions niche?
Even with the best high-definition cameras and the latest telehealth technology, diagnosis of wounds and abnormal pathology is still subjective and is highly dependent on the experience of the consulting physician.
Using Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), it has been shown that computers can reliably diagnose and identify certain types of pathology with a high degree of accuracy, often much more reliably than your average physician.
Given that we do not always have access to the best specialist for any given medical condition, particularly in remote locations, the use of ML and AI for the reliable diagnosis of many types of pathology is a goal we strive to achieve.
Acquiring and collating large numbers of clinical images and teaching the computer what a specific pathology looks like, allows us to make more reliable decisions based on historical data.
At the end of the day, the treatment decision is still made by the physician but with AI in play, that decision can be more informed and no doubt more accurate in many instances.
Take wound management as an example: the location of a wound and the size and colour can tell the physician many things.
A Visionflex product fitted with AI could measure the diameter of a wound, the surface area, colour, and depth, and make an informed diagnosis of the wound type and condition, compared to previous images of the same wound.
AI and ML are the future in many areas of medicine and the team at Visionflex is working actively to take advantage of this new technology to help patients who may not always have access to the most advanced medical specialists.
What would be your advice to the entrepreneurs and healthcare enthusiasts aspiring to venture into telehealth?
Telehealth is an exciting and challenging field in which many stakeholders are involved in every consultation. As simple as it may seem, there are many people involved, from the patient and local nurse, through to the IT department, telecommunications providers, administrators, and finally the consulting specialist.
Telehealth is not just a video consultation but a co-ordinated workflow to bring all these stakeholders together at the same time for the benefit of the patient. Successful telehealth is all about workflow and integration with existing systems so that the actual consultation and video link become almost unnoticed.
We would urge young entrepreneurs and healthcare enthusiasts to look at the bigger picture and on providing a complete solution to the patient journey, rather than just a small piece. We need to simplify the consultation process and improve outcomes, and this can only be achieved by looking at integration with existing platforms and providing an intuitive interface for the patient and the physician.
How do you envision scaling your company’s operations and offerings in 2021?
COVID-19 saw telehealth expand and we scaled our production and marketing plans accordingly – employing additional staff in Australia and establishing global partnerships in Europe, the USA, Canada, Middle East, and Asia. The global telehealth market is anticipated to grow by 16.1% (CAGR) from 2021-2027, with a 2027 global market value of more than AUD203B.
In Australia, we anticipate growth will be largely driven by the application of telehealth services in the aged care sector. A recent government-led inquiry into the state of Australia’s aged care sector resulted in a recommendation that all aged care operators provide a telehealth service to residents by November 2021.
We are embarking on a comprehensive marketing strategy to educate and nurture the aged care market, which is traditionally under-resourced and resistant to change or technological advancements, to demonstrate the value of a comprehensive clinical telehealth solution. We are taking steps to employ even more staff to assist with this growth.
We will also continue to leverage off our diverse Visionflex Australian client base, which includes GPs, medical specialists, hospitals, prisons, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, Royal Flying Doctor Service, Australian Antarctic Division, and state health departments.
About the leaders
Mike Harman, CEO and Co-founder
A desire to solve problems and a thirst for adventure have shaped Mike Harman’s 25 years of experience in the med-tech sector.
Mike, who studied Electronic Engineering at RMIT in Victoria, established INLINE Systems in 1995, with the company quickly becoming a leader in Australia’s dental, medical, and industrial imaging sphere. More recently, in 2014, Mike co-founded Visionflex, which has made significant inroads in the Australian and international telehealth markets.
In his spare time, Mike has spent a year in Antarctica as Senior Science Manager with the over-winter crew, taken up hang gliding in the Alps while living in Germany with his family for seven years, and been on a 12-month overland 4WD adventure from Scotland to South Africa.
Peter Shandley, COO and Co-founder.
Engineering for the human body is the passion that drives Peter Shandley, who has more than 35 years of global experience working in the fields of electronics and telecommunications. Pete hails from Coventry, the United Kingdom’s engineering heartland, where like him, both his father and grandfather were engineers involved in the electronic and telecommunication industries.
After completing an Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering thin-sandwich sponsorship course, Pete started his career at GEC Plessey Telecommunications, followed by 11 years with electronics giant, Lite-On, as head of the European automotive electronics design and application team, based in the UK and Holland.
In 1995, Pete and his family moved to Sydney, Australia where he ran his own successful electronics business, Full Power Technology, for 12 years, before returning to the fields of medical device design and technology, and industrial design as an engineering and business consultant. During this time, Pete and Mike met and established Visionflex in 2014, to pursue their shared engineering goal of developing an electronic and telecommunication solution to deliver equitable access to healthcare.
Pete has global experience in system/product design, electronics, medical devices, telecommunications, manufacturing, automotive systems, telehealth and wearables, bio-sensor applications/technology, bio-medical/scientific, and nutritional health/wellness technologies. Pete’s diverse interests encompass everything from science, technology, and engineering solutions to digital health strategies, and aircraft/spacecraft technology.
A fan of British automotive engineering – particularly that found in vehicles designed by Aston Martin, Lotus, Jaguar, and McLaren – when time allows, Pete enjoys catching up with his motoring friends.
Exhibiting true excellence
Customer service is a cornerstone of our business ethos. Visionflex has collaborated with numerous clients to provide a customised telehealth solution. For example:
Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) – this world-famous remote medical service uses small, fixed-wing aircraft to transport doctors, dentists, nurses, and patients to and from some of Australia’s most remote regions. Visionflex has worked closely with RFDS, designing a telehealth cabinet for our ProEX system, so remote patients can enter an unmanned clinic 24/7 via keycode and, at the push of a button, establish a video consultation with a doctor based at RFDS HQ.
Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS) – KAMS is an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation that provides culturally-informed health services to around 100 Aboriginal communities across the very remote Kimberley region in Western Australia’s north-west corner. Visionflex is working closely with KAMS to deploy the ProEX system and a range of approved medical devices.
The Visionflex system allows KAMS clinicians to perform remote medical examinations for the first time, enabling Indigenous people to remain in the community for healthcare. Care in the community improves health outcomes for a culture that traditionally practises group decision-making. Healthcare via telehealth is timely, effective, and improves continuity of care. It also reduces the costs and stress associated with medical travel to the nearest major centres of Perth or Darwin, which are almost 2000km away.