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Why does this Adelaide company expect Australia’s medtech market to really blow up this year?

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After working for several years in the Australian hospital system, where often he often had to use century old tools and techniques to assess a patient, Dr Neil Bartlett saw that doctors really needed better tools for a better and more accurate physical examination.

Although great technology was already available in radiology, you couldn’t get your hands on it at night or in rural areas. Dr Bartlett saw that physicians needed better tools right in their pocket.

This spurred him to co-found a medtech company, Signostics with a vision of producing affordable handheld tools that every doctor could use as part of the normal physical examination.

Move over stethoscope, handheld ultrasound is here

Most medical professionals still rely on a manual physical examination and in some cases the good old stethoscope to diagnose many symptoms and illness and yet clinical studies have shown that for many conditions, ultrasound gives a quicker and more accurate diagnosis.

However, up to now, ultrasound technology has been too expensive, too large, and too complex for ER doctors, GPs, and maternity specialists to use in every physical examination.

Started in 2005, Adelaide-based Signostics set out to specifically address all of these issues.

It was the first of only three companies in the world to design and manufacture a handheld ultrasound that is affordable, accurate and can assist with point‐of-care diagnosis at the bedside, launching its first handheld ultrasound device, the Signos in 2009.

In 2013, Signostics launched its second handheld ultrasound device, the SignosRT, and in 2014 launched the SignosRT Bladder (specifically for bladder scanning).

Their products are used to screen for abdominal bleeding and abdominal aortic aneurysms, detect pleural effusions of the lungs, check fetal positioning, and scan bladders, to name just a few.

The SignosRT and SignosRT Bladder are made for primary care doctors (and in some cases nurses), ER medics and pre‐hospital staff, midwives, and specialists including palliative care doctors, emergency physicians, respiratory physicians and surgeons.

The medical community is now catching up to Signostics vision, and starting to educate medical students in ultrasound use – integrating ultrasound into the physical examination.

For example, in 2007 there were only four medical schools in the U.S. teaching ultrasound. In 2014, that number had grown tenfold to 40.

Signostics is providing affordable handheld devices for the medical students to learn with.

Once medical professionals are trained in using the device, they can carry it with them and use it easily on their daily hospital rounds, home visits, and in the clinic.

“We aim to put a portable ultrasound product in the hand of ever doctor in much the same way as a stethoscope,” says Stewart Bartlett, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer.

Since the launch of SignosRT in 2013, Signostics has generated more than $6 million in revenue, with year on year sales growing by more than 300 per cent.

Regulatory approvals are in place for Australia, the U.S., Canada, Japan, Singapore and Europe, and the company now exports to more than 10 countries.

Signostics has raised capital of more than $23 million since inception and is currently raising capital of up to A$6 million to fund continued expansion of sales into the U.S, Europe and new markets.

What does the future hold for medtech as a sector?

Stewart Bartlett strongly believes 2015 will be very great for medtech in Australia and below is what he had to share with Anthill about why he is so optimistic.

An editorial last year in the influential publication Global Heart (the journal of the World Heart Federation) predicted handheld point of care ultrasound would soon replace the stethoscope.

With the trend in consumer electronics toward smaller, smarter, palm-sized products, it’s a no brainer that the same qualities are also desirable in other sectors, including medicine.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be in town during the annual JPMorgan Conference in San Francisco. Healthcare executives, VCs and investment partners converge on the city to hear about emerging trends and to check out opportunities.

With the relative low-key response most people have to the medtech sector in Australia (especially unlisted companies), I was surprised by the extremely high level of excitement and buzz around disruptive medical technologies like ours and other emerging areas like electronic healthcare solutions.

Medtech is very much seen in North America as the industry of the moment. After three days of back-to-back meetings we were exhausted, but exhilarated by the opportunities and the chance to network with global partners in the U.S.

Coming back to Australia I’m wondering when that same level of enthusiasm will catch on here. Mining seems to have taken centre stage for the last decade but medtech offers real opportunities right now.

The handheld ultrasound sector alone is an opportunity of over US$4 billion and Signostics fully intends to grow very quickly over the next two years and emerge as a global trailblazer.

Some of the key opportunities for Signostics and other medtech companies in 2015 are:

  • A more favourable exchange rate for our export sales
  • A continued expansion in ultrasound education and training in medical schools and residency programs, providing an ever increasing ultrasound educated customer base
  • A continued expansion of home-based health care in western countries – where portability and convenience is essential
  • Significant opportunities in developing countries where affordable ultrasound can improve obstetric outcomes
  • A continued push by governments all around the world to reduce healthcare costs, with point of care ultrasound research showing many problems can be addressed immediately, efficiently, and cost effectively
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