Hacking health: Medtech startup Coviu takes top gong for digitising rural healthcare

Dr Silvia Pfeiffer Coviu

Coviu chief executive Dr Silvia Pfeiffer. Source: Supplied.

In the past month alone, medtech startup Coviu has won Brisbane’s HealthHack, taken home the Innovation Award at the HIMSS AsiaPac18 Conference and been recognised by the Pearcey Foundation.

Coviou offers video consultation software that helps remote healthcare practitioners and businesses bring digital technology into their everyday practice and betters outcomes for patients.

The startup began in 2015 as a telehealth project within CSIRO’s Data61 when chief executive Dr Silvia Pfeiffer was working there. A national leader in the tech space, Dr Pfeiffer has more than 15 years of experience with web video technology, and in addition to her time at CSIRO, has worked for Google, Mozilla and NICTA.

After uncovering a gap in the healthcare industry, she built a rudimentary MVP in a couple of weeks. Once the project was given the green light, she and a handful of developers worked with speech pathologists to better understand the challenges and obstacles they face when working with patients remotely.

“The bones of our research was, first of all, to see if this new technology would make a difference in healthcare. Then to see if online consultations would result in the same patient impact as in-person consultations.

“We proved with many use cases that online consultations are every bit as effective as in-person consultations,” Dr Pfeiffer tells StartupSmart.

Coviu’s technology is particularly helpful for doctors with patients in remote areas who don’t have access to healthcare specialists.

“I’ve just been to the Rural Medical Association’s Conference in Darwin,” Dr Pfeiffer says, “GPs in the territory pointed out they can’t always help their patients because specialists — such as speech pathologists, dieticians, physiotherapists and occupational therapists — aren’t available in rural areas.”

Coviu enables specialists to not only take initial consultations with patients online, but to monitor and assess their improvements over time.

“What we’re doing is using vision analysis with a standard webcam to analyse the range of motion of people’s limbs around joints to determine whether people are making progress in their recovery post-orthopaedic surgery.

“Having a standardised assessment in this telehealth scenario is really important to organisations looking at rehabilitation and making patient decisions,” she says.

Coviu uses simple computer vision algorithms incorporating artificial intelligence. A standard video camera records patients doing rehabilitation exercises, enabling practitioners to ensure patients are doing them correctly. The recordings are then analysed and measured in terms of the range of motion, giving doctors the necessary insight to determine a patient’s progress.

When launching Coviu, Dr Pfeiffer and her team were cognisant of privacy concerns from the start.

“Satisfying regulatory requirements around security and privacy is something we take very seriously.

“Every video call is encrypted and entirely private. The recorded data is also fully encrypted and only ever stored by the practitioner — never by Coviu,” she says.

As a woman in tech, Dr Pfeiffer recognises we have a long way to go to reach gender equality.

Her approach has been to somewhat “try to ignore the discrepancies and just work harder”.

She feels men find it much easier to land funding, but not for the reasons you might expect.

“Women pitch differently. We think differently. We have a much more inclusive way of thinking.

“We think about all the problems and all the solutions, so we tend to make things more complicated by providing a more complete picture.

“Men have a tendency to be more simple and conclusive, which is helpful when you have a short amount of time to get your product across to investors,” she says.

Coviu has ambitious plans for the future, including hopes to align with Australia’s national My Health Record and to continue simplifying things for practitioners and healthcare businesses digitally.

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