"Internet of things" technology is being used to remotely set thermostats, manage traffic signals and predict when to service industrial machines before they break down. Toronto entrepreneur Mike Monteith thinks it can also save lives.
On Monday, his software startup, ThoughtWire Corp., will announce it has raised $20-million in equity and debt financing to expand the reach of its automated early warning system that has helped cut the number of deaths from "code blue" cardiac-arrest emergencies in hospitals by 42 per cent in a project with the Hamilton health system.
"The numbers are earth-shattering," said Salil Munjal, managing partner with Vancouver-based Yaletown Partners, which is leading the financing, along with Business Development Bank of Canada, Round 13 Capital and Epic Capital (lender Comerica is also providing less than $5-million in debt as part of the deal). "It certainly perked my attention as a Canadian interested in health care for all the policy reasons, but also, if they can do that in the context of one of the most complex, real-time life-and-death environments [I thought], 'Is it portable into things like energy efficiency and smart buildings?' The short answer was, 'Yes.' "
Preventing heart attacks may be a conversation starter, but ThoughtWire has broader ambitions for its Ambiant software platform serving the internet of things (IoT) market in the health-care, building-management and manufacturing sectors. "We'll take the capital and swing hard" in all three areas by nearly doubling staff to about 100 people in the next year, said Mr. Monteith, ThoughtWire's CEO and a former consultant to governments on digital health initiatives.
ThoughtWire is one of several companies – including General Electric, which bought Yaletown-backed IoT firm Bit Stew Systems for US$153-million in 2016 – using technology to create software-generated facsimiles of complex systems or processes fed by reams of sensor data. These "digital twins" are then compared with data sent from real environments over the internet to detect aberrations ranging from spikes in energy use to underperforming machinery, highlighting potential problems .
"We live in seas of data and people in busy environments don't have the time to consider small changes," said Mr. Monteith. "The true promise of IoT is early warning."
ThoughtWire is already generating more than $5-million in annual revenue from 20 customers. Most of its business is in health care but it is used in a range of applications, including automating day and night operation modes for "smart" office buildings, ensuring mental-health patients with wireless identification tags don't wander from health-care facilities, and helping a bottler optimize production and minimize downtime.
Dr. Alison Fox-Robichaud, director of medical education for Hamilton Health Sciences, will present results from a study involving ThoughtWire at a health-care information-management conference in Las Vegas this week.
Dr. Fox-Robichaud said health services in several countries have long explored how to reduce "code blue" emergencies – cardiac failures that send medical staff running through hospitals to revive patients. "We've recognized critical-care physicians need to be outside intensive care units to prevent critical-care events" by monitoring patients early for deteriorating vital signs that can predict heart failure, she said. Heading off such crises would have a huge impact: The survival rate for cardiac arrest is typically less than 15 per cent, and only 3 per cent of "code blue" victims leave the hospital alive. Direct hospital costs from code-blue admissions amounted to $630-million in Canada alone in 2010-11.
The Hamilton team decided to develop an automated electronic solution, partnering with ThoughtWire to create an app to gather, process and push out information using hospital-grade mobile devices. Nurses use the devices to enter data on a range of vital signs at bedside and automatically upload it to the health system's electronic records using the ThoughtWire platform. The software tallies the data and if they indicate alarming conditions, emergency teams are notified.
Using the system at Hamilton General Hospital, the team cut the amount of code blues by more than 42 per cent during the last two years, compared to 2013-14 levels. "The app works," Dr. Fox-Robichaud said.