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Toronto startup launches first-of-its kind solution for surgery patients

By Jerry Zeidenberg

Many companies have produced mobile solutions that monitor the health of patients with chronic diseases – innovative solutions for tracking diabetes, COPD and heart failure have scored notable successes in the past few years.

But SeamlessMD, a Toronto startup led by physicians, designers and engineers, has devised what may be the first mobile tracking solution that supports surgical patients throughout their entire journey – from pre-op to post-op. SeamlessMD has gone live with a system that delivers interactive care plans to patients on smartphones, tablets and the web, and connects post-op patients with their care-givers in real-time.

The system also provides patients with quick solutions to problems that occur once they’re at home.

“Many post-op patients develop complications and don’t know what to do,” said Dr. Joshua Liu, CEO of SeamlessMD and named a Forbes 30 Under 30 in Healthcare this year. “They may experience vomiting or nausea, or their wounds may become infected. Typically, they will see their surgeon for a follow-up several weeks later. Many of them think they can just wait it out.”

Of course, they shouldn’t wait, and often become sick – resulting in readmission.

However, if these patients received attention by a nurse or doctor in a day clinic, and a complication is caught early, before it progresses, they might very well avoid a trip to the emergency department or readmission to an inpatient ward.

That’s where SeamlessMD comes in. It features an easy-to-use menu on a tablet computer or smartphone, and patients can complete key tasks in their care plan, access interactive education modules and report each day on symptoms and concerns like wounds, high-temperature and pain, among others.

Using care plans and algorithms optimized to various surgical procedures, the system analyzes the data and quickly tells the patient whether to seek immediate help at an ER, contact his or her provider at the hospital, or complete the right education module on the application to self-manage at home.

Moreover, the data collected by SeamlessMD can be wirelessly communicated to the patient’s care-providers at the hospital, alerting them to urgent issues. This enables physicians and other members of a care team have a better view of the patient’s progress throughout the entire journey, from pre-op to post-op.

“Patients tend to forget their instructions soon after they leave the hospital,” said Dr. Liu. As well, “They also often lose the papers they have been given.”

In essence, SeamlessMD provides patients with access to the information they need at the right time in their care.

So far, the solution is being used by hospitals associated with Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. Soon, Toronto East General Hospital is going to start using the solution, and other Toronto-area hospitals are on track to follow.

Dr. Liu began thinking of ways to address hospital readmissions with technology while in medical school at the University of Toronto. He was training to become a family doctor, but was also intrigued by health system problems through his research on readmissions at UHN’s Centre for Innovation in Complex Care. Readmissions cost Canadian hospitals $1.8 billion annually, while the cost in the United States is a whopping $25 billion.

What’s more, readmission means that patients aren’t getting better as soon as they should.

In partnership with two friends, Willie Kwok, a computer scientist, and Philip Chen, an engineer, Dr. Liu launched the company. They have created a solution for colorectal surgery patients, which is being used at Baylor in Houston, and have solutions for hip and knee replacement, thoracic, cardiac and bariatric patients in the works.

“These are higher-volume surgeries, with higher rates of complications and readmissions,” said Dr. Liu. “But our goal is to provide interactive care plans for every major surgery.”

He noted that SeamlessMD can reduce readmissions and improve outcomes for surgical patients. But it can also provide ‘business intelligence’ to hospital and health system administrators.

“It can be used to show patient satisfaction rates for each surgeon or department, when symptoms and complications occur after surgery, and how hospitals compare with each other,” said Dr. Liu. “By having access to patient-reported outcomes in real-time, hospitals will be able to drive quality improvement.”

SeamlessMD won first-place awards at both the e-Health Conference in Ottawa in 2013 and TiEQuest, Canada’s largest business venture competition, earlier this year. The company now employs the three founders and two software developers.

For his part, Dr. Liu has decided to give SeamlessMD his full-time attention. “I don’t know yet when I’ll go back to medicine,” he said. He feels being CEO of the company is another great way to make an impact on the healthcare system and to improve patient outcomes.

“I couldn’t have done this three years ago, and the opportunity may no longer be here three years from now,” he said. “It’s the right time, and the right solution.”

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