Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island and Founders League are collaborating toshowcase local companies pioneering new health and wellness solutions. The diversity of these companies captures the depth of activity happening across Rhode Island’s startup scene and highlights the global impact these companies are already having on the world. Below is the fourth in a nine-part blog series on these special local companies.
A few months ago The New York Times ran an article series with the headline “Bracing for the Falls of an Aging Nation.” The numbers are cause for concern -- 1.6 million people over 75 were treated in emergency departments for injuries from falls in 2012 alone, an increase of 50 percent in the last decade. Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries.
Helping aging people maintain independent, active lives is at the heart of the service provided by Nordic, a Providence-based start-up that builds smart health-monitoring products.
Nordic cofounder Dr. Sheldon Apsell worked decades ago to develop Lifeline, the market leader for push button alarms. His mother was wearing Lifeline when she fell in her assisted living apartment but did not press the button. She remained alone all night before someone discovered she was in trouble, and she passed away three days later.
This is not a unique situation: falls are the leading cause of professional liability claims for senior housing communities, with two-thirds of these falls occurring in the resident's apartment and the average claim paid for incidents in excess of $200,000. The average annual insurance premium for nursing facilities is over $2,000 per resident, so no wonder there is a need for a better solution.
The Nordic team has developed motion sensors to detect changes in how someone normally moves around. It alerts caregivers immediately when there’s trouble. Even more promising, Nordic can already point to a long list of cases where injuries have been prevented through detection of early signs of trouble or by analyzing what led to previous injuries. “We have designed a service that fits the needs of senior housing communities and their residents. Our 3D motion sensors are installed in a person’s apartment. When our software detects a deviation, such as a fall, an alert is sent to the appropriate caregiver,“ says Erik Wernevi, cofounder and CEO of Nordic.
When an older adult sits for extended periods of time in a wheelchair 1.7% of muscle mass is lost per day, significantly increasing risks for serious injuries. Therefore it is important to get individuals back on their feet quickly -- for example, after an operation. However, there is always a risk that people fall, and senior housing communities need the right tools in place to prevent and detect falls. Nordic’s system does just that: its motion sensors monitor residents 24/7 in their apartments to make sure that they are safe.
Co-founded by Erik Wernevi, Josh Napoli, and Dr. Sheldon Apsell, Nordic (along with its team of Brown University and MIT computer scientists) was named the top winner in the 2014 Rhode Island Business Plan Competition. It has also won a MassChallengeGold Award.
“With our 3-D motion sensors and unique software, we are able to detect falls and similar incidents without a person wearing any device,” said Wernevi. “Even if someone is unconscious or can’t press the alarm, they will get timely help.” To develop its product, Nordic has collaborated with two leading senior housing communities based in Rhode Island, as well as with the Center for Gerontology at Brown University.
The potential for digital health solutions such as Nordic to transform how health care is delivered is huge. In the last quarter alone, investors bet $630M on digital health (an 80% increase year over year). No wonder that one of the hottest health start-ups, Honor, raised $20 million to create a trusted marketplace for elder home care.
“The aging demographic and the need for new health care delivery models are playing out everywhere, not just here in the US,” says Mr. Wernevi, who is originally from Sweden. Formerly a Director of Corporate Business Development at Nokia and consultant with Accenture in London and Stockholm, Mr. Wernevi came to Providence with his family from Europe via San Francisco and New York in early 2012 to start Nordic. Three years later, Nordic has several institutional customers and is working with one of the largest senior housing providers in the US. Hearing him speak, it is hard not to share his enthusiasm about the potential for helping people stay active as they age. He firmly believes that Nordic has an important role to play in the future of health care: “We are passionate about helping all of our parents and grandparents, one parent at a time.”
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