Simona recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Sheila Wang, co-founder of Swift Medical in Toronto. Swift Medical was started in 2015 and is the leader in digital wound care management technology for healthcare professionals. Dr. Wang completed her MD and PhD at the University of Toronto.
BioTEC: Dr. Wang, could you start by explaining how Swift Medical supports wound care?
Dr. Wang: Swift Skin and Wound is Swift Medical’s machine-vision enabled wound care mobile application. It allows nurses, physicians, and dermatologists to easily take a picture of a patient’s wound and calculate its size to track it over time, just using a smartphone.
The application essentially replaces a ruler, which has traditionally been used to measure wounds to see how they change. Since wounds come in different shapes and sizes, there is a lot of variability in how wounds are measured with rulers, which makes manual wound measurements inaccurate. With Swift, clinicians can consistently measure the wound’s surface area each time they assess it, so they can get an accurate and objective measurement. Alongside each image, the app also allows full documentation of the wound assessment, which is immediately integrated into the patient’s electronic health record.
Since Swift has collected a large proprietary database of wound data, we have also been able to build prognostic tools into our platform using artificial intelligence. These features include automatically categorizing the type of wound and how long it takes to heal and also advising clinicians about the management of the wound.
BioTEC: What exactly is wound care, and what defines a wound, for readers who aren’t familiar with these terms?
Dr. Wang: Wound care is such a challenge because there is a lack of knowledge and education around wound care and management. As a result, there is also a lack of ownership for wound care, because it really involves all areas of medicine, and can be shared by the family physician, surgeon, dermatologist, nurse, and the patient.
When we talk about wounds, there are two types: acute and chronic wounds. Acute wounds may be caused by trauma or surgery, and they normally heal if you are healthy. Then there are chronic wounds. These take a lot longer to heal, and in some cases never heal at all. Chronic wounds can be tricky to deal with because there are a lot of factors - infection, inflammation, cancer, presence of a foreign body - and there also really is not enough information about the cause of these wounds.
For chronic wound care, there is no “one size fits all” treatment - there are no pills or creams that can make these wounds disappear. Sometimes we prescribe compression stockings for venous insufficiency, but it can be difficult to encourage patients to comply with their treatment if their wound persists for months.
BioTEC: How does Swift help patients persevere throughout the wound care lifecycle?
Dr. Wang: One of the benefits of Swift on the patient side is that it allows clinicians to show patients how their wound is changing over time. A lot of wounds occur in older patients who lack mobility and flexibility, so if they have a wound on their back or on their buttocks or their feet, they may never have seen it, and so it’s hard to motivate them to be compliant with the prescribed treatment.
Swift changes the game, because now as a healthcare professional we can take a picture of a patient’s wound and show it to them at each visit showing the wound healing over time. Once patients can see this, they become actively involved in their own wound care and are more motivated to keep the compression sock on, or stay off their feet, because they can monitor the progress of their wounds.
BioTEC: Can you tell us about your experience starting Swift as someone who works in wound care directly?
Dr. Wang: The first time I pitched the idea was at a hackathon called Hacking Health in Toronto. When I was a medical student, it seemed obvious to create an application for wound imaging to enable clinicians to remember what patient wounds looked like at each assessment. I realized there needed to be something very simple to use that could take an image of a wound, perform basic measurements, and store all this information in the patient’s electronic health record.
I did my three-minute pitch, which was nerve-racking, but won the prize for the most practical app. Through Hacking Health I met the other co-founders of Swift and from there the idea took off.
BioTEC: What advice would you give to students who have an idea, but aren’t sure how to launch it and take it to the next level?
Dr. Wang: There really is no better time and place to launch an idea into a company than as a student. Most schools have an incubator or innovation center, which is a great place to start. In your undergrad, you’re at an institution with lots of people interested in different things. The beauty of this is being able to talk about your ideas and pull in people with different expertise to build something together.
Especially if you are in medicine, challenge the processes around you, and don’t be afraid of looking at things that have been historically done the same way, and asking yourself “Why is it done this way?” and “Could this be done better?”. You will get a lot of people telling you this is how things have always been done, but try to keep an open mind and constantly evaluate if things can be done in new ways.
Finally, having a solid idea is a good start, but being able to concisely articulate the value of your idea and explain why people should care about it is important. Learning how to pitch is a great skill to learn because, within a couple of minutes, you need to clearly communicate your idea and convince people to take a chance on it. And then there is presenting your pitch, which is the really scary part - just be brave and go for it!
BioTEC: How has wound care been impacted by COVID-19, and how is Swift being used to support remote care?
Dr. Wang: A big problem right now is that patients cannot come into the clinic for their wound assessments, and so there are a lot of chronic wounds that are going untreated. It is especially challenging, because the patients whose wounds need to be monitored are older and might be immunocompromised, so they are really the highest-risk individuals who need to stay home. This creates a big dilemma because if these wounds are not managed properly, they can result in infections, amputations, and even death.
The best thing is if the patient can take a picture of the wound and send it to us. This is where Swift is an effective tool for remote care because it already has all of the features that are important for telemedicine, including patient security and image quality. If we can get the application into the patient’s hands, then Swift can branch into the telehealth space and be the remote wound care management tool that we rely on even after the pandemic.
Opportunities at Swift Medical: Swift Medical has both co-op and full-time opportunities in data science and computer vision. For more details, check out the careers page or contact Justin Allport (Chief Engineer) at firstname.lastname@example.org.