Managing Hypertension – the passion behind a new technology
Posted: September 18, 2019
Posted: September 18, 2019
As a clinician and researcher, Dr. Raj Padwal is passionate about his work and the patients he serves. A professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Alberta, Padwal is an internationally recognized expert in hypertension (more commonly known as high blood pressure) and he’s based his career on finding better ways to help clinicians and patients manage the disease.
High blood pressure affects nearly 1.5 billion adults globally and 7.5 million Canadian adults, or nearly 25% of the Canadian adult population. It is a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease and kidney failure and the leading cause of death and disability in the world. In most cases, blood pressure can be managed if monitored and treated appropriately.
But Padwal noticed that despite guidelines and research that showed monitoring blood pressure in a patient’s home was more accurate, most monitoring was still done in the doctor’s office. Results and data were sent back and forth by fax or by hand, and devices for home monitoring were large, clunky and expensive and not connected to physician records.
“It was just crazy how we were doing things,” Padwal says, “I kept thinking that there had to be a better way, for me as a clinician and for my patients. I wanted to spend my time talking to my patients about managing their blood pressure, not doing paperwork.” It began to dawn on him that he might have to create the technology himself rather than waiting for a large medical device company to consider building it.
“I think a lot of innovations start when people are in a field and they get frustrated,” Padwal muses.
Driven by his desire to make things better, Padwal decided to take the plunge into the business world. With the help of programs at NRC IRAP (National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program) and Alberta Innovates, and investments from his own pocket, he created mmHg, a blood pressure monitoring and service delivery company.
“I was at a stage in my career where I could take some risks, so I did,” Padwal says. “I decided that I was going to make a BP monitor that’s cheaper, more widely available and bring innovations to the market that I didn’t see other companies doing. It would be miniaturized, more connected and have a cloud-based platform that can auto-interpret results. And it would be super efficient so that physicians and care providers could get the test done at a relatively cheap cost and offer it to patients, which is the bottom line.”
It didn’t all happen at once. Padwal describes the innovative process as a bit of a snowball effect. “I started with just focusing on making an at-home monitor that was smaller and more connected,” he says, “we’re in the final prototype stages of that.”
Along the way he realized that in addition to hardware, there were also problems with the accuracy of home monitoring systems due to algorithm issues. This is where his worked dovetailed with work of Dr. Jennifer Ringrose, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Alberta and Chief Medical Officer of mmHg. Together they made a database of patients for academic work, which also helped refine the algorithms so companies could make their devices more accurate.
Then came the next idea. Telemonitoring (remote monitoring from home) using a device that most patients already have – a smart phone. The mmHg team developed an application (app) and software that patients can download that follows their blood pressure trends and averages over time. The app can be used with compatible Bluetooth monitors, or readings can be entered manually. The app also includes the novel Swipe Averaging™ feature which helps users quickly calculate their average readings over any collective period and can be linked to a healthcare provider.
Dr. Padwal has accomplished all this with the help and dedication of a team of expert physicians, engineers, artificial intelligence and software specialists who come from all over the world. “That’s the amazing thing about this university – we attract talent to Edmonton because of the research that is happening here. I couldn’t have gotten to this point without this team.”
The other unique thing about Padwal and his team is their vision to share their innovation with countries and patients that may not be able to afford current technologies. They are working on a modular ‘DIY’ blood pressure device intended for entrepreneurs and manufacturers.
“Our focus is to innovate and bring widely implementable innovation across the world,” Padwal explains. “And hopefully we’ll make enough money while doing it so we can continue to fund more innovation, too.”
They will soon be releasing free schematics for a low-cost monitor, and then selling low cost modules that can be put together to create a device for ambulatory, home, office and tele-monitoring. Manufacturers need regulatory approval and must validate their final device before finishing it off with their own design, case and logo. The estimated total cost is 1/30th of the cost of a current device.
Padwal says that Edmonton has been a great place to build the company he envisioned. “I stay for all the reasons that Edmonton is a great place to live and have a family. I’m a patriot. I wouldn’t leave Canada because I needed to make a start-up viable.” While working in Edmonton is not without challenges, he says, new technology, increasing interconnectivity, and better access to capital means that Edmonton isn’t as isolated as it once was. The innovation community is gaining momentum and providing more support than ever.
For more information about mmHg, visit their website at: http://mmhg.ca
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