When you hear about Theranos, read about it in the newspapers or see the story on TV (on Disney Plus there is a series that tells it well), one of the things you think is that basically the idea was not bad. Not the idea of fooling investors and customers, but the idea of bringing healthcare to people’s homes, instead of bringing people to hospitals. And in fact today, just as the leaders of Theranos are being condemned, there are those who gave concreteness to that idea and made it become a job. There are those who have succeeded, and they have succeeded in Italy.
This is the case of D-Hearth and Medicilio, two startups that have done what they do Elizabeth Holmes e Sunny Balwani they have not been able to do. And they did it without cheating, without lying, without telling lies to the health authorities and without inventing the reports to give to patients.
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D-Hearth, the do-it-yourself electrocardiogram
The first of the two was founded in 2015 in Genoa by Nicolò Briante and Niccolò Maurizi, who when he was 16 suffered a heart attack due to a genetic predisposition. And that’s where the spring came: “We wanted to do something for this, for people with heart disease, for those who have to be monitored forever, after a heart attack or for a congenital disorder”, Briante told us when we went to visit him. in the beautiful and large headquarters of the startup.
The two meet at the university, while one is studying Law and the other Medicine, they set up the company when they are both less than thirty years old, they collect 230 thousand euros from Vodafone in the dark and without having anything in hand, only thanks to their idea. And what was the idea? That of making a portable device that would allow people to control their heart by themselves. A portable electrocardiograph. Not only that: a portable electrocardiograph, easy to use and connected to the smartphone. The first prototype is ready in 2016 and is useful for raising other funding: to date, D-Hearth has obtained about 1.5 million. A year and a half later, in April 2018, the device is ready and put on also for sale on Amazon, where it costs about 330 euros: “We produce it in Italy, in Cologno Monzese, and in 4 years we have sold 6 thousand, through which over 30 thousand ECGs have been made”, Briante told us again.
Who then reminded us that “in Italy there are 5 million heart patients, with a very high mortality rate. More prevention is needed, it is necessary to better manage chronic patients, who are usually elderly: our device was created for these two categories of people, is meant for 40-50 year olds, who can use it on their own, or for those who assist others (the so-called caregivers, ed), as well as for nurses, pharmacists and family doctors, who usually do not do these tests also due to the complexity of the devices “. Instead, D-Heart is simple: it pairs with the smartphone, is positioned at the height of the sternum, then the phone’s camera helps to fix the cables in the right places through augmented reality. According to its creators, it is as effective as those in hospitals: “The ECGs are of various types and of various complexity, as can be understood from the lines shown on the screen – the company explained to us – Those in hospitals have 12 channels, ours is 8 or 12, it is a real medical device , recognized and certified by the European Union “. For context, the Apple Watch is not a medical device and the electrocardiogram it does is 1-channel.
After the exam, the person who has to do? “We work with a team of 45 cardiologists who we pay for the service – explained Briante – The user can decide whether to send them the report, paying (18 euros for once but there are subscriptions from 12 euros for 50, ed) , or make a PDF, print it and send it to your trusted cardiologist, even via WhatsApp“. Somehow, this shifts the control of health from the patient to the doctor, as we said at the beginning: “The two years of the pandemic have pushed people to buy these devices online too – they told us from D-Heart – We used to sell them above all through representatives and above all to professionals, while now we do 50% of our turnover with private individuals, which also allows us to have more profit margins ”. What about the future? “Healthcare is a slow sectorwhere startups find themselves running not a sprint race but a marathon and where the right contacts are more than funding rounds – is Briante’s reflection – If we could get the National Health System to reimburse our devices, we would sell them millions”.
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Medicilio, to make x-rays at home
The public sector is a sector in which (perhaps) it would have an interest to enter as well Mattia Perroni, even if somehow it has already overcome it. Or at least side by side: in September 2020, together with Marcello Dacol and Andrea Rusignuolo, he founded a startup called Medicilio in Milan. Again, and as perhaps the name implies, the idea is to bring medicine into people’s homes: “The pandemic has complicated something that was already complicated – Perroni told us on the phone – I’m talking about the possibility for the elderly to undergo control exams “. Which is something that traditionally can only be done in the hospital and that many no longer want to do, partly for fear of contagions, partly for convenience, partly for objective difficulties of displacement: “We dedicated the first year to research and development, we set up our own software platform, obtained the necessary certifications to be accepted and recognized by the SSN, and then we left”.
Medicilio does not produce devices, but buys or rents them and gives them to technicians who go to people’s homes to do the exams they require: “The user goes to our site, chooses the specialty he needs, a day and a range hourly, the technician joins him at home, examines him and then the report is available in 4-12 hours “. So far, the startup has raised 1.5 million euros from lenders such as Seven Investments of the Moratti family and Davide Dattoli of Talent Garden, but the real turning point came at the end of 2021: “We were contacted by those of Humanitasthey asked us for help with home medicine and we signed a contract with them – recalled Perroni during our chat – This year it was the turn of the San Raffaele, with whom we did the same thing ”. In all cases, a Medicilio technician goes to the patient, then the report comes out with the logo of the reference hospitals.
How much do you spend, though? “To date, you pay for each individual exam (120 euros for an RX at home, ed), you can pay online, by bank transfer, or to the technician with the POS – explained Perroni – However, we are evaluating the possibility of creating monthly or annual subscription for recurring exams “. Medicilio works at the rate of 600 patients per month (triple compared to 2021) and is active in Abruzzo and Lombardy, but obviously the intention is to broaden the field of action: “Italy is full of specialized technicians who are scattered all over the place, there is a sort of pulverization of the offer – Perroni told us again – Our idea is to bring them together, standardize technology and help build better healthcare ”. It is undeniable that the pandemic has shown the weakness of local health in our country: “With rare exceptions, the mutual fund does not reimburse home services. And in hospitals the waiting lists for an exam are very long also because there are space limits, because more than many people cannot be physically managed ”. But if you take your exams at home, this problem is obviously not there.