A conversation with Rahul Samant, CEO of Rehabtronics
Tell me about yourself and your journey to this point. How did you decide to start the company?
I became involved with Rehabtronics, as I longed to once again build a product, to transform discovery into products. I saw an opportunity to have a tremendous impact on the quality of life of people with mobility deficits. I am the CEO of the company and have increased revenues by 70%. I have guided the company into cash-flow positive situation and with 2 consecutive profitable years.
Rehabtronics is a spinoff of the University of Alberta’s Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute. It was started to bring state-of-the-art neural interfacing and neural rehabilitation technologies into clinical practice. Our vision has always been that technology-driven innovation will drive sustainable healthcare by more efficiently delivering better outcomes to more patients. Our mission has been to bring state-of-the art neuroscience technology into rehabilitation and expand the clinical settings in which these medical technologies are used. In other words, go beyond the rehabilitation clinic into the home and acute care settings.
Our first product, the ReJoyce was among the first products to bring gaming and computer-based functional assessment to the world. We followed up the ReTouch, the world’s first touchscreen-based rehabilitation for cognitive, visual, and motor rehabilitation. ReGrasp is a neural prosthetic that restores grasping function (opening and closing the hand). Our products are used by over 500 clinics around the world.
We became increasingly aware of pressure injuries and the enormous impact they have on health care while working with the patients that use our products - those with impaired mobility and sensation such as people with chronic stroke or spinal cord injury -
Pressure injuries are among one of the greatest unmet medical needs in health care today. It’s a huge problem – for example, in the US, pressure injuries kill an estimated 60,000 people each year - almost as many as diabetes.
Pressure injuries are prevalent in all health care settings: from critical care and home care to long-term care. Indeed, 25% of patients in healthcare facilities have a pressure injury. They are among the most common, expensive and deadly hospital acquired illnesses. Despite the impact of pressure injuries, there has been no innovation in this space in 100 years.
While our understanding of the patho-physiology of pressure injuries has advanced, our approaches to preventing them has not. 21st science explains that pressure injuries form as a result of ischemia and tissue deformation.
We realized that the neural interfacing technology platform used in our ReGrasp Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) to restore motor function (based on research at the University of Alberta) - could also be used to prevent pressure injuries.
We now have a patented technology called Intermittent Electrical Stimulation (IES). We can alter the pathophysiology of pressure injuries by increasing tissue oxygenation and preventing deleterious tissue deformation. No other pressure injury prevention technology does this.
Our vision is technology-driven sustainable transformation in health care. Our mission is to use neuroscience technology to eliminate deadly pressure injuries.
Who are your Customers / Prospective Customers - What do they do?
Pressure injuries are among the most common, expensive and deadly medical complications. In the US, they kill over 60,000 people every year and cost the health care system an estimate $27 B each year. They are seen in all health care settings - critical, acute, rehabilitation, long-term, and home care.
Pressure injuries are one of the most common hospital-acquired injury. Estimates of pressure injury incidences in hospitals can be as high as 30% in critical care. The average treatment cost of pressure injury is over $30,000. That is if the patient survives - 70% of those that develop a so-called full-thickness pressure injury in a hospital will die within 6 months.
In the US, hospitals are not reimbursed for hospital-acquired pressure injury expenses - hospitals must pay for the treatment of pressure injuries acquired in their facility. According to the Agency for Quality Health Research (AJRQ), nearly 2.4% of all hospital discharges in the US developed a hospital-acquired pressure injury (HAPI) in 2016.
It is the only hospital-acquired condition to increase in incidence. It is estimated that HAPIs costs US hospitals $11B per year. Hospitals need more effective means of preventing hospital-acquired pressure injuries in order to capture these costs. For example, a 300-bed hospital in the US will see over 16,000 admissions, nearly 400 HAPI events, and spend approx $10MM+ on treatment.
Our focus will be in acute and critical care where nearly 30% of patients will develop a pressure injury iin 4-7 days. Moreover, HAPIs are deadly in a a population of critically-ill patients.
What Solution / Technology are you using to meet your Customers’ needs?
Our patented Intermittent Electrical Stimulation (IES). technology uses a proprietary electrical stimulation protocol to increase and maintain tissue oxygenation - a key factor in the formation of pressure injuries. Animal studies have shown that IES reduces injury volume by 80%. Human studies have demonstrated that IES increases tissue oxygenation by as much as 28% and maintains tissue oxygenation at 20% above baseline.
In Alberta, IES was tested on 68 patients – all of whom were considered at-risk of developing a pressure ulcer. IES was found to be easy-to-use by nurses; and easy to deploy (even in complex environments such as critical and acute care). Most importantly, no pressure injuries were observed in any of the 68 high risk patients.
What differentiates your company from the competition?
Despite the magnitude of the problem, there has been very little technology innovation in pressure ulcer prevention. While the market is mature and there are many products in this space, they invariably fall into one of two approaches: (1) Patient Turning (developed in 1800s); or (2) Pressure Redistribution Mattress (mid-1900s)
21st century modern science has enabled us to have a much better understanding of how pressure injuries form.
They start deep inside tissue as a deep tissue injury (DTI). As pressure is applied to soft tissue, especially over bony-prominences, it deforms the tissue and restricts blood-flow - causing ischemia. In as little as 1 hour, a DTI begins to form. Over the next several days, the DTI grows from the inside out until it breaks the skin.
In either case, there are no products on the market that prevent pressure ulcers by altering the pathophysiology of ischemia and mechanical stress and promoting blood circulation, tissue oxygenation and tissue reformation. Patient Turning - where nurses turn patients every 2 hours to temporarily relieve pressure, was first started in the 1850s. The practice continues to today. However, it requires significant nursing time (i.e., at least 2 nurses 10 minutes every 2 hours and as many as 5 nurses 30 min every 2 hours).
It is also the Top Cause of work-related injuries to professional nursing staff.
Relieving the pressure on the patient, while helpful, is not sufficient to restore health oxygenation to the tissue at risk. Additionally, tissue oxygenation can become depleted in a matter of minutes and a pressure ulcer may develop in less than 1 hour.
Pressure redistribution is achieved by using mattresses made of foam, air or gel. The mattresses spread (redistribute) the pressure. However, like with Patient Turning, this fails to bring blood, oxygen and nutrients into the tissue.
These beds are very expensive, and many hospitals rent them. Moreover, a specialized bed can often take days to arrive. In the meantime, the patient has already developed a pressure injury – creating a painful, expensive and difficult problem to solve for all involved: the patient, nursing staff and the hospital.
Randy Fisher, MA, BJ, is a communications and market research professional with experience in business writing, customer interviewing, media relations and storytelling. His experience in customer discovery and validation and education helps firms accelerate adoption and rapidly penetrate new markets. https://www.linkedin.com/in/customerdiscoverypros/ He teaches business and proposal writing and interview skills at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He began his career in Vancouver and worked as a business journalist with The Globe and Mail, Financial Post and CBC Radio.