hearScope is a smartphone video otoscope for the accurate diagnosis of ear disease using artificial intelligence.
A lack of trained healthcare personnel and diagnostic low-cost video-otoscopes (the tool used for diagnosing ear disease) in low and middle income countries like South Africa means ear disease remains undiagnosed or incorrectly diagnosed in the vast majority of cases. The devastating complications of delayed or missed detection of ear disease include preventable hearing loss (more than 200 million people affected worldwide), meningitis or even loss of life (28 000 people per year). These complications together with the fact that more than 90% of those affected live in underserved communities, motivated the development of a solution for this challenge. Early and accurate diagnosis of ear disease is key to prevent complications like hearing loss and even death.
hearScope is a world-first smartphone video-otoscope with integrated diagnostic support for ear disease using artificial intelligence. The high quality variable magnification video-otoscope pen connects to a smartphone running the hearScope application. Users are able to easily take images or videos of a person’s eardrum. The recorded media is then attached to a record and uploaded into the mHealth Studio Cloud system for an automated diagnosis using artificial intelligence.
The application provides 2 options for external image diagnosis, namely:
i. Automated Diagnosis:
hearX Group, in partnership with the University of Pretoria, has successfully created a Neural Network focused on the diagnosis of outer/middle ear diseases. The system is capable of diagnosing diseases with an accuracy of 86% accuracy, which compares favourably against that of medical doctors.
When a user requests an automated diagnosis, the image is uploaded to the mHealth Studio Cloud. Our Neural Network is then used to classify the image into one of the five most common diagnostic groups:
1. Normal (Ear drum),
2. Wax obstruction
3. Serous Otitis Media
4. Acute Otitis Media
5. Chronic Suppurative Otitis Media
The diagnosis is then returned to the user with an approximated accuracy.
ii. Specialist Diagnosis
hearX Group is currently partnering with hearing health specialists to manually diagnose ear diseases. When a user requests a specialist diagnosis, the image is sent to a hearing health specialist partner for a manual diagnosis. The specialist makes the diagnosis and the user is notified in their app’s mailbox.
The hearScope application forms part of the hearX Group mHealth platform offering. hearScope is a smart solution that enables every healthcare provider to make an accurate diagnosis. What makes it revolutionary, however, is that it is simple and affordable enough that anyone can use it on their own smartphone. This solution therefore not only adds value with regards to diagnosis of ear disease for timely intervention and prevention of complications like hearing loss, but is also extremely valuable in prevention of ear disease.
Watch our elevator pitch:
Where our solution team is headquartered or located:Johannesburg, South Africa
The dimensions of the Challenge our solution addresses:
What makes our solution innovative:
hearScope is a world-first smartphone video-otoscope that uses artificial intelligence as a tool for diagnosis of the 5 most common types of ear disease. The user-friendly application and easy to use video-otoscope pen means anyone, anywhere in the world, can record images on a mobile phone and upload for automated diagnostic support. Our artificial intelligence system applies machine learning to provide an accurate diagnosis for the most common ear diseases is a revolution in provision of hearing healthcare globally. hearScope has the potential to prevent serious complications such as hearing loss and fatalities through accurate early detection of ear disease.
How technology is integral to our solution:
As an innovative technology and digital health start-up we capitalise on the technology and digital revolutions to provide affordable access to ear and hearing health globally. hearScope is one of the hearX Group’s technologies addressing a leading global health burden with more than 330 million persons affected annually by ear infections. In children it is the most complaint, after the common cold, for which they visit a physician. If it goes undetected or is misdiagnosed, ear infections can lead to permanent hearing loss and death. Our hearScope technology and AI system ensures accurate diagnoses for preventative care.
Our solution goals over the next 12 months:
Currently, the hearScope smartphone otoscope is in production to be shipped to our first customers in July. The first version of the application will not include AI image diagnostic capabilities. In parallel with our commercial development, we are running a research initiative to collect and diagnose as many images of the eardrum as possible to refine our current neural network before official release. This is done in partnership with medical centers and healthcare professionals and will form the finalised ground truth image database. Our goal is to launch the AI diagnostic support and specialist diagnosis in Q1 of 2019.
Our vision over the next three to five years to grow and scale our solution to affect the lives of more people:
We envisage being able to connect 1 million people with healthy hearing services globally by 2020 using our solutions.
The main purpose behind the user-friendly design of the hearScope is for healthcare workers serving in our community-based projects to use the hearScope as an assistive diagnostic tool when screening children for hearing loss. Once a child has failed a hearing screening, the next step is to examine the ear using otoscope. Unfortunately, due to the lack of trained and skilled staff in these rural communities, diagnostic abilities are lacking - which the hearScope compensates for with the use of AI.
Our promotional video:
The key characteristics of the populations who will benefit from our solution in the next 12 months:
The regions where we will be operating in the next 12 months:
How we will reach and retain our customers or beneficiaries:
We reach beneficiaries through our community-based projects where we partner with local implementation partners to do decentralised screening projects at a grassroots level with the local community. If a person fails a hearing screening, they receive and otoscopic in-ear examination with our hearScope hardware and application which can then assist with the diagnosis, if present, of ear disease. We reach our customers through an extensive multi-channel marketing approach to promote the hearScope. We retain our customers and beneficiaries through our software subscription model which is a yearly renewable subscription with a once-off hardware cost.
How many people we are currently serving with our solution:
More than 220 people to date have purchased a hearScope since it’s official launch in August 2017. Since our product is only shipping its first order of hearScopes in July 2018, it’s hard to quantify how many people will be affected by our solution. We do however know that through our hearScope research study, by means of our 10 number of research partners, our hearScopes (to date) have been used on hundreds of patients across 4 regions in South Africa with hundreds of images of eardrums taken to train and use on our machine learning algorithm.
How many people we will be serving with our solution in the 12 months and the next 3 years:
The population we serve with our hearScope ranges from our target market namely; audiologists, GP’s, clinics and nurses to our community-based projects where the hearScope is used for assistive diagnosis. We project to sell 2000 units of hearScope over the rest of this financial year for 2018/19. Our main unique serving point for the hearScope is 1) the use of artificial intelligence for diagnostic purposes, 2) our cloud-based data management system which allows patient data and images to be stored to the cloud and 3) specialists diagnosis, where an image can be uploaded remotely to a specialist for interpretive diagnosis.
How our solution team is organized:
How many people work on our solution team:
How many years we have been working on our solution:
The skills our solution team has that will enable us to attract the different resources needed to succeed and make an impact:
Among our staff, located in South Africa, have various sets of skills, expertise and knowledge on both managing projects internationally, launching new products abroad as well as scaling a company. Our entrepreneurial CEO, Nic Klopper has founded and successfully built several businesses and is a great tutor on ‘how-to’ establishing future growth. We have 32 professionals in our arsenal varying from Computer Engineers to Audiologists therefore creating a holistic environment for scaling our solutions.
Our revenue model:
hearX Group is currently financed through equity venture funders that includes strategic angel and institutional investors. hearX Group has six post-revenue products (including hearScreen) that generates annual revenue of $547239,12. hearX Group uses its venture funding to fund all its R&D product development and to assist with scaling business to other territories and markets.
We intend to achieve financial sustainability for our initiative through our revenue model which consists of the once-off sale of a hardware component for the product and thereafter the renewal of the annual subscription to our product softwares.
Why we are applying to Solve:
We lack geographical support infrastructure to assist with expansion. We need partners in identified territories to assist with our ongoing scaling efforts. Applying to Solve will support our positioning to meet new potential partners through the programme to assist us with scaling our solutions. Furthermore, the money available to win will be used towards funding and furthering the development of our artificial intelligence solution to ensure the hearScope reaches those in most need at the most affordable cost-point.
The key barriers for our solution:
We lack geographical support infrastructure to assist with expansion we therefore need partners in identified territories to assist with our ongoing scaling. We believe that Solve can assist us with key partnerships in this regard. Global expansion with strategic centres in various world regions will become necessary to drive the impact that we are after in addressing a major global health burden like ear disease and its concomitant hearing loss.
The types of connections and partnerships we would be most interested in if we became Solvers: