Digital Health Innovator AMA with HeartSmart CEO Michael McCann
- Please tell us a little about your background prior to HeartSmart.
My background was investment banking and corporate and international finance before moving into more operational roles. I had companies in real estate and publishing before moving into the tech area, helping launch two Internet companies and then a medical software company involved in electronic medical records before establishing HeartSmart.
- Can you give us a quick overview of HeartSmart and the market it’s in?
HeartSmart provides the HeartSmart IMTplus test for early detection of cardiovascular disease. It enables physicians and other healthcare practitioners to perform ultrasound scans of the carotid arteries which are uploaded to the cloud for analysis and reporting by the HeartSmart lab. The analysis determines if there is excessive atherosclerosis or plaque in the arteries which indicates the presence of cardiovascular disease. Early detection of disease can lead to prevention of heart attacks or strokes, and we market the platform to primary care physicians who are at the point of care of at-risk patients. It’s the only imaging modality to actually determine if disease is present that doctors can do right in their office without specialized personnel.
- What problem(s) did Heart Smart set out to solve? What impact is Heart Smart trying to make?
Undetected cardiovascular disease is the greatest risk facing patients today, but it is preventable disease. Yet, for most people, the first symptom comes in the form of a heart attack or stroke. When cardiovascular disease is detected early, patients can take action. The HeartSmart IMTplus test has often identified symptoms which has led to further testing and surgical intervention such as stents and, in one case reported to us, even life-saving bypass surgery.
- Where did the inspiration to solve this problem come from?
The HeartSmart IMTplus technology was developed by Dr. Jacques Barth, a cardiologist and endocrinologist with a Ph.D. in medical imaging. Dr. Barth was a researcher in cardiovascular disease and a co-author of the first study that demonstrated that atherosclerosis could be reversed with diet and exercise (The Leiden Intervention Study published in 1985). He was also a pioneer in developing carotid IMT measurement while at the USC Keck School of Medicine and the Jet Propulsions Laboratory.
Dr. Barth was one of the first people to see the value of carotid IMT in clinical practice long before most physicians had heard of it. He recognized that the primary care physicians were in the best position to assess their patient’s cardiovascular health and provided a means that would go far beyond the assessment of conventional risk factors to protect their patients from heart attacks and strokes.
- How many employees are in the company?
The company has eight people who are employees or provide ongoing contract services to the company in test analysis, finance and IT development and management.
- Have you raised funding?
The company did secure outside funding from a small group of investors, all involved in healthcare.
- How is HeartSmart differentiated from its competitors?
HeartSmart provides a system to allow the doctors to do the ultrasound scans in their office without specialized personnel and upload them to HeartSmart for analysis and processing. This eliminates the need to schedule patients around the availability of a mobile ultrasound service, making it more convenient for patients and requiring less staff time. This greatly reduces the cost of providing the test.
Our cloud technology can be deployed to remote locations or literally anywhere in the world with internet, where traditional ultrasound imaging services may not readily be available. We currently have clients in India and in three countries in the Middle East!
- What problems did your company experience early on?
The company was started with limited resources so it took some time to grow the customer base to generate the resources needed for our new technology development. When Dr. Barth started marketing the test to primary care physicians, the test was largely unknown but has now gained recognition and acceptance as a valuable diagnostic tool.
- Who are your current and target customers?
Our target customers continue to be primary care physicians who are focused on a more integrative and preventive approach to their patients’ health. The HeartSmart IMT test is also ideal for other healthcare practitioners such as naturopaths and chiropractors who have expanded their scope to the overall health and wellness of the patient.
- What kind of feedback are you getting from customers?
Our initial feedback from customers is that they are delighted with the system and its ease of use. The image quality from the probe is excellent and the commands are highly intuitive. They also love the HeartSmart IMT Report which makes it easy for patients to understand the state of their cardiovascular health. Our new technology has also greatly reduced the upfront cost which has enable us to accelerate customer acquisition by lowering barriers to entry for physicians.
- Where does HeartSmart plan to go in the future?
HeartSmart’s goal is give all healthcare practitioners the ability to identify the presence of cardiovascular disease before their patients experience an adverse event, and enable providers to motivate patients to follow recommendations to prevent themselves from experiencing a heart attack or stroke. In the coming months, our company will undertake a program to enhance our analysis software to provide additional information not currently included in most carotid IMT testing. This would also enable HeartSmart to expand in the international markets and provide potential licensing opportunities in major markets where the test is not currently available.