Is this SA startup the future of health wearables?

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Young children often have trouble with their body heat, but for some, a quickly rising high temperature can cause fitting – known as febrile seizures.

When South African software developer Werner Vorster’s son began suffering from these, the new father sat through long nights trying to prevent the child’s fever from spiking, to avoid further seizures.

The sleepless entrepreneur came to a conclusion: there had to be a better way of monitoring a child’s vital signs.  Vitls was born.

Vitls is a startup based on the idea of wireless connected healthcare, combining discreet wearables with cloud-based data analysis to improve patient care.

“Our disposable body-worn devices are small, flexible, waterproof, discreet, non-invasive and have a battery life of around five days. They monitor respiration, pulse rate, and body temperature. Data is sent to the cloud where our algorithms convert it into actionable intel,” Vorster explains.

“The idea is to provide a platform that enables healthcare providers to continuously and remotely monitor a patient’s vital signs, reliably and undisturbed. This will allow nurses on site and physicians from anywhere to receive uninterrupted data and alerts when something is out of place with a patient.”

The startup currently has five users: Vorster and his family, and he says the device has the potential to ease the load of those caring for patients at home.

But he also believes the device can drastically impact on care in healthcare institutions. And the market seems to agree: Vitls has been invited to trial the device in a 30 bed oncology unit, and has also had an offer of partnership for clinical trials.

In wards where nurses often care for a number of patients at the same time, it can be difficult to manually observe early signs of deterioration, which can lead to negative outcomes. The lack of access to reliable patient data over a period of time also hinders doctors in making quick diagnoses and planning treatment effectively.  These problems are addressed by the Vitls solution, which monitors patients continuously, relays the data, and sends alerts in the case of unusual information.  Doctors can access all this data via smartphone app.

“For hospitals, using Vitls will lead to improvements in patient outcomes as well as reductions in length of stay and treatment costs,” Vorster says.

According to Vorster, technology is set to spark a “revolution” in healthcare, which will help both healthcare providers and patients experience better care. For providers, they will have better access to data which in turns enables quicker, more precise decision-making. On the other side, patients will be able to be more aware and responsible for their own well-being, keeping them healthier for longer.

He adds that digital healthcare solutions hold particular potential for Africa, where large numbers of people do not have easy access to quality healthcare in their local vicinity.

“I believe we’re on the cusp of a digital revolution in healthcare where technology will play an enormous role in the hospital and outpatient setting,” Vorster says.

“I’m very passionate about Africa and I feel our device can make a big difference here. Especially in rural areas where there are none – or very little access to healthcare because of the vast distances people have to travel to get to a clinic as well as the financial constraints of patients and clinics.”

Vitls is currently working on the next iteration of the device, and is looking forward to seeing the monitor rolled out in hospitals in South Africa. After that, the startup also has an offer to test the device in a group of Texas-based institutions.

There’s also the question of fundraising, and so, as Vorster jokes: “if you have any extra cash lying around…”

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Inspired and excited by the African tech entrepreneurial scene, Gabriella spends her time travelling around the continent to report on the most innovative tech startups, the most active investors, and the latest trends emerging in the ecosystem.

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