People of a certain age may be familiar with the line from the television commercial, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” The ad was for a wearable device that allowed elderly people to call for help without the use of a phone.
But what if you could prevent people from falling in the first place?
This is the idea behind new biotechnology invented by Vuetech Health Innovations, a startup company comprising University of Virginia nursing, medical and engineering students.
Their patent-pending tech, called “EVA” – an acronym for “Emergency Video Alerts” – uses computer vision and machine-learning algorithms to continuously analyze a live video feed of a patient’s room. The tech recognizes markers of potentially harmful events beforethey actually develop, notifying caregivers in real time so that they can intervene and prevent harmful events from happening.
To protect patient privacy, the tech analyzes and deletes the video feed synchronously and nearly instantaneously, preventing the original video feed from being seen by anyone.
“EVA is unique in that it is designed to be a predictive video monitoring technology, while also upholding the privacy of the patient,” said Vuetech CEO Jefferson Griscavage, a third-year student in UVA’s School of Medicine who is pursuing a MD/MBA dual-degree. “Other products are designed only to be reactive, and alert providers after an adverse event has already occurred, or rely on human operators to monitor video, thus compromising end-user privacy.”
Vuetech is comprised entirely of current UVA students and recent graduates. The company’s founding members are Griscavage, Victor Aquino, Melony Bennis, Tien Comlekoglu and Haram Yoon. The team also includes Maggie Bujor, Kiersten Paul, Maddie Prieur, Nadim Barakat, Daniel Chen and Samantha Bonde.
The idea for EVA originated during a health-themed hackathon event, “Caring for the Caregiver Hackathon,” held last November in Richmond. The student group was tasked with creating a new technology that could assist caregivers in taking care of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Using their diverse backgrounds and experiences, the group came up with EVA. Seeing its potential to improve patient outcomes, enhance hospital workflow and reduce health care costs, they were inspired to continue to develop the technology and founded Vuetech.
“The cross-collaboration is one of the things that makes this special,” said Kathryn Reid, an associate professor of nursing who coached the team at the hackathon and, in conjunction with Drs. Richard Lindsay and Brittany Behar, has helped guide them since. “We all have a common goal and are working toward a common achievement, but are bringing our own unique information and specialties and backgrounds to the effort.”
Griscavage said Reid has been an “invaluable mentor,” advising on research aspects of the project and lending her expertise in nursing and patient safety initiatives.
“We would not be where we are today if not for her,” Griscavage said.
Reid believes EVA has a bright future.
“They came up with a brilliant idea,” she said. “And then, when the pandemic hit, these guys just really got going and just poured all their energy into developing their idea and advancing their cause.
“We just coached them through how to look at other products on the market, how to develop a business plan and to think about their product’s specificity.”
Reid said EVA’s closed-loop system – which makes hacking and retrieving images impossible –makes it unique. “I think that’s really going to be huge because there are just so many privacy concerns – not just with video technology, but also in all our privacy concerns within health care,” she said.
While EVA is currently focused on fall prediction and prevention, its potential applications within the health care sector run the gamut, according to Griscavage. He said they include ulcer prevention, seizure monitoring, neonatal monitoring and gait assessment.
“Every new doctor we talk to seemingly has a new application for EVA in their specific field,” Griscavage said.
“We started with falls because they are the No. 1 cause of fatal and nonfatal injury in older adults, and falls alone are projected to cost the U.S. health care system almost $70 billion in 2020. By preventing them, we would not only save lives, but also save health systems billions of dollars in preventable adverse events.”
Since last November, Vuetech has raised nearly $15,000, developed a prototype, secured a provisional patent, recruited a 15-member team, sponsored a clinical research study, partnered with local entrepreneurial organizations and conducted extensive market research and analysis.
Recently, EVA was declared a “Top 5 Digital Health Innovation of 2020” by New York’s HITLAB Breakthrough Alliance, and the company won first place at the Entrepreneurship World Cup’s USA National Finals. The team now advances to the world finals, set for March in Saudi Arabia, where they will pitch investors on their idea, with a shot at $500,000 in prizes.
Griscavage anticipates it will be another one to two years before EVA officially goes to market, given the fact it will take some time to validate the product, optimize it for hospital workflow and demonstrate a financial return on investment for hospitals and nursing homes.
Interestingly, Griscavage said Vuetech does not currently have investors.
“This is a strategic decision, as we are in an advantageous position to raise most of our funds through research grants or other competitions,” he said. “We would like to maintain 100% equity of our company until we are at a point where we have sales and are looking to scale.”
Griscavage, a Northern Virginia native who earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Pittsburgh prior to arriving at UVA, said it’s an exciting time.
“We continue to receive positive feedback from patients, nurses, physicians and hospital administrators almost daily,” he said. “It serves as a constant reminder that we have the potential to truly revolutionize patient safety and improve the health care industry as a whole.
“As someone in the health care industry, this opportunity is both humbling and inspiring, and we are committed to making the most of it.”