This quarter, Warsaw-based HigoSense is commercially launching a personal medtech device the size of a mobile phone. Named Higo, the device facilitates self-diagnosis anyway through the use of AI, a powerful camera and an in-device software. and is compatible with different modular diagnostic equipment. E-prescriptions are also available, making remote triage, diagnosis, monitoring and treatment easier than ever.
HigoSense was co-founded in late 2017 by CEO Łukasz Krasnopolski and CTO, project manager and engineer Michal Biernat. “We want to reach the majority of households with the possibility of a fully remote diagnosis and solve the problem of lame telemedicine, in which there is really no hard diagnosis,” Krasnopolski told Polish media.
Designed to replicate a GP’s typical general consultation process to detect the most common illnesses, Higo comes with five attachments. It can be used to perform visual examinations of the throat with a spatula attachment, of the ear canal and eardrum with the otoscope attachment, and of the skin via the detachable dermatoscope.
The stethoscope attachment reads the heart rate while temperature readings are taken with its Temporal Artery Thermometry module, considered to be a highly accurate method. The hardware's high-resolution camera optimizes the photographs taken, automatically enhancing light conditions. Using AI, the device informs the user if photographs or other readings have been incorrectly taken.
“Without the presence of a doctor, we can examine the throat and ears, auscultate the lungs, heart and abdomen, and, if necessary, record a cough, examine the skin or take the temperature. It's all performed remotely with an extremely simple device supported by algorithms,” Krasnopolski said. According to the company, the device obtained EU medical device certification in just 14 months.
The co-founders’ original target patients were people with low immunity, especially cancer patients, who are more susceptible to infections. “They do not have to leave home and expose themselves to infections in hospitals but they can still receive a diagnosis,” Krasnopolski said. Saving scarce healthcare resources was another motivation – Poland has only 2.4 doctors per 1,000 citizens, one of the lowest in Europe.
An Higo in every family
The co-founders came up with the idea for HigoSense, named after the Greek goddess of good health Hygea, when they participated in a workshop at the Polish incubator, ToReforge. The startup was a finalist at the major international healthcare event, World Medicine Forum in Düsseldorf in November 2020. It has also won the Best InsurTech project award at Poland's Fintech & InsurTech Digital Congress.
HigoSense's app is where data is stored and where communication takes place between patients and medical professionals. The company requires a patient interview to be recorded in the app for each examination, including a questionnaire on symptoms, which, according to Krasnopolski, "significantly complements the package of information provided by the device to the doctor.”
“From the very beginning, our vision was to comprehensively [replicate] all processes and tests performed during a standard visit to a doctor's office,” he said.
The cloud-based app stores patients' medical histories, diagnoses and test results for HigoSense's team of doctors, which includes pediatricians, GPs and internists. AI is applied to test results and data from each patient's medical history to provide a diagnosis in just four minutes. The app is also where e-prescriptions are issued to patients, either by subscribing doctors or, in the case of non-corporate individual subscribers, from HigoSense's team of medical specialists.
HigoSense aims to shorten the duration of the total diagnostic process from an average of 2.5 hours to just 40 minutes. Except in more serious or complicated situations, there is no need for patients to be examined in-person due to Higo’s precise measurements, high-resolution images and AI-driven processing,
“Our vision is that each family will be equipped with one device. I am a father of four children myself, so I understand this need,” Krasnopolski said.
“We also took care of all aspects related to sterility and the possibility of disinfecting the device. User comfort is at the highest level. It was naturally also one of the elements of the certification process.”
Novel certification efforts
Commercial release is slated for the end of the first quarter of 2021 with a SaaS model, to be marketed mainly to large corporate medical partners. No details of any deals were released. There are three payment models: Higo Family, for individual subscribers, Higo Pro for professionals in the medical and healthcare industry and other corporates with some medical expertise, and Higo Med for corporates with no previous medical capacity.
Both hardware and software were developed in cooperation with two of Poland's premier medical institutions: the Medical University of Warsaw and the Warsaw Clinical Hospital. Higo is an EU-certified Class IIa medical device, but in an independent research center in France, the startup still ran into hurdles: non-medically trained workers had trouble using Higo.
“We spent a lot of time designing and testing the ergonomics of the device, combining various, and sometimes contradictory test functionalities in one device,” Krasnopolski said.
"We put a lot of effort into UX, AI algorithms supporting research processes, invisible details such as otoscope lenses, codecs in a stethoscope or white balance for individual tests. This is obviously just the tip of the iceberg of challenges we encountered. Overcoming them has created a device that is really easy to use.”
HigoSense also approached its certification – essential to market any medtech – in a non-conventional way, beginning the process at the same time as product development and having a certification expert in the development team, resulting in a EU CE marking in one-third of the time usually taken.
Another time-saving strategy was tolaunch different development projects in parallel and anticipate all possible errors. The company continues to operate with “several response plans."
Poland, then Europe and Middle East
Another possible use case is for Higo to serve as a healthcare stopgap for business and leisure travelers who fall sick while overseas, enabling contact with a trusted doctor in their own language.
Rollout will begin across Poland in the first quarter of 2021 and after a year of business development, expanding to Switzerland, Scandinavia, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. The company plans to enter the UAE, followed by other countries in the Middle East.
HigoSense has not disclosed any funding rounds to date or announced plans. The company has so far been supported by both EU and Polish government innovation grants, as well as undisclosed business angels to the tune of 30m Polish zloty ($8m).
HigoSense is confident that its SaaS platform stands head-and-shoulders above other telemedicine products in the market. “In classic telemedicine, the doctor does not really have access to hard data about our health,” Krasnopolski said. “We say what's wrong with us; the doctor will believe it or not and only on the basis of our words will he make a diagnosis.
"In the case of our device, the doctor uses real medical data. In my opinion, this is a milestone in relation to the current achievements in the field of telemedicine.”