Communication between patients and doctors or caregivers is paramount, but when a patient is paralyzed or using a ventilator, speaking or even pushing a call switch becomes more complicated. The Coralville, Iowa startup Voxello is offering new communication solutions for patients with its Noddle devices.
How Voxello works
Voxello was born from the work of Dr. Richard Hurtig, whose work at the University of Iowa included finding alternative and augmented communications devices for patients at the university’s hospitals. Hurtig would often come up with one-off solutions to give patients who couldn’t speak or write access to a nurse call button, but they weren’t easily scalable or transferable to other locations.
In 2013, the Iowa Medical Innovations Group fielded a student team to work with Hurtig for a senior project proposal to simulate a business. The result was Iowa Adaptive Technologies, which eventually became known as Voxello.
Voxello’s Noddle devices allow patients to activate a nurse call switch using either tongue clicks or zero force touch sensors. The device is chosen based on the patient’s need, and more options are currently being worked on.
“Right now we’re in clinical trials for the microphone to detect tongue clicks and the touch sensor, but we’re in the process of adding on several more sensors,” said CEO Rives Bird. “It might be easier for a patient to blink, use a gyroscopic sensor or bite down on a stylus. We can help decide what gesture a patient can best make and use the right sensor for them.”
Voxello has received FDA clearance and has production units being tested with patients.
Working with hardware and software
When a startup is working with software and hardware, the physical objects can often cause delays compared to easily re-writable software. Bird said that Voxello’s experience was the opposite.
“Hardware is not that hard to be honest, but in the medical field the regulations on software are very, very stringent,” Bird said. “The FDA makes you test it in pretty much every way you can possibly use it. It’s a pretty rigorous process. You almost have to try to break the software to make it do something wrong.”
Coming soon to a hospital near you
Voxello is heading into its soft launch, with hospitals in Philadelphia and Chicago set to use the technology. More clinical trials are also in the works. In this initial period, the company isn’t looking for explosive sales, just to help the right people.
“This is an emerging market, hospitals have never had access to devices that let patients communicate like this,” Bird said. “Our customers (medical supply buyers) might not understand who the internal decision makers are for a device that’s never been in a hospital before. We’re not looking for wild, off the charts sales, we just want to understand our customers.”
Voxello is planning a more aggressive sales plan for 2018 and beyond. In the long run, Bird thinks Voxello is most likely to be acquired by another company for its tech.
“This is a very unique product, but it’s a niche product,” Bird said. “Niche products are often brought into the fold of another company that has complementary products and services. New companies either expand to make the company broader, or become a part of something broader.”
Joe Lawler is a freelance reporter based in Des Moines.