“I’m a doctor, not an engineer.”
So says The Doctor in Star Trek: Voyager. While that statement was true in the context of the 1990s TV series, it’s not true at all in Aotearoa in 2016 – especially for ARANZ Medical.
Anyone even mildly familiar with the many different iterations of Star Trek is aware of all the different futuristic technology on display in the science fiction franchise. And while some of it – transporters and warp drives – are still very much science-fiction (emphasis on fiction), some of the show’s devices are coming closer to becoming science-fact. One of those things: the medical tricorder, that handheld device that can scan and treat even the most severe wounds almost instantaneously.
While we still can't heal wounds instantly, the scanning function of the tricorder is something we’ve got in the real world today, thanks to ARANZ Medical. The Christchurch-based company’s patented technologies are already helping patients in 35 countries around the world, and its work has even been acknowledged by none other than the United Nations.
While such accolades are certainly impressive, ARANZ Medical chief executive Dr Bruce Davey says his company has a simple vision that also serves as a mission for employees. “Our goal is to lower the cost and make the provision of healthcare more efficient.”
To that end, the company – which counts Australia, Africa, Asia, Europe and North America as its primary markets – pours a significant amount of its revenue into research and development. Prototypes are developed and transferred to engineers, where the hardware and software are readied for commercial release. The software development team also releases systematic updates and upgrades, constantly improving the informatics capability and usability of innovations.
The company also used tools such as Visual Studio, and .NET in short iterative development cycles, and is a Microsoft Partner. Technologies are TUV and FDA approved, complying with all major health IT requirements, such as HIPAA, REACH, and PMCF. Solutions can involve integration with major electronic medical record and research documentation systems.
Low on ceremony and high on output, ARANZ Medical employees usually work in small teams utilising advanced development, agile software development and electrical engineering. The team includes specialists in medical imaging and informatics, sales, marketing, and business development, as well as quality and regulatory management, 3D surface acquisition technology, electrical, system and software engineering, product management and rapid development, clinical development and commercialisation. A significant percentage of ARANZ Medical employees have PhDs, meaning they’re able to use their academic experience to contribute to the company’s innovative firepower.
Among ARANZ Medical's best-known innovations, Davey says, is the FastSCAN, a 3D system that helps custom-fit orthotics and prosthetics more comfortably and accurately. The idea of a laser scanning device is based on the FastRBF, which enables data sets to be interpolated by Radial Basis Functions (RBFs) and was first used by Weta Digital in the creation of digital models for creatures in The Lord of the Rings.
Silhouette in action
The first version of the FastSCAN came out about 15 years ago, but, as disruptive as that technology was, it was also quite bulky and difficult to transport, he says. Recognising this, the company released a new version, called the FastSCAN 2, about two years ago. The new device is smaller, more affordable, easier to make, portable, and works more quickly than the original. “We’re very focused on making healthcare more sustainable,” he says. “It’s incredibly important.”
FastSCAN isn’t the only innovation ARANZ Medical has been recognised for. The company’s Silhouette scanner is an advanced non-contact wound surveillance system that shows the rate of healing and wound change over a period of time, allowing for better monitoring and patient care. Davey says the company is working on a wireless version of the scanner, bringing it closer to Star Trek’s tricorder. As Davey explains: “You don’t want a cable around a patient with wounds.”
The system offers a way to systematically and easily collect accurate wound images and data, including measurements and healing trends, with its accuracy allowing for practitioners to detect small changes in wound size. This results in earlier intervention in treating wounds, and also lets doctors and medical professionals make better decisions about how to treat a patient. And it’s an industry where there’s money to be made: the wound care market in the United States is worth an estimated US$50 billion per year.
Innovation, Davey believes, is not simply related to a single tangible thing, like a new phone or type of chair, but is an entire ecosystem within an organisation. “When they think about innovation, people often think of a product,” he explains. “But it’s really the whole organisation that creates innovation.”
Any innovation needs to incorporate both simplicity and excellence to be successful, Davey says. That way, it can improve a person’s life.
Davey says he believes New Zealand’s 'strong' innovation ecosystem and creative mentality to find solutions makes it an ideal place to come up with new ideas and to turn those ideas into reality. He also believes that it’s easier than ever to innovate in the 21st century thanks to the tools we now have available to us. “There’s so much information now.”
But that also means innovation is becoming a necessity to simply survive as a business, Davey says, as “resting on laurels” can lead to stagnation and, ultimately, a loss of business as consumers grow weary.
“If we’re not innovating as an organisation, we’re dead,” he says. “Everyone is innovating now. There’s just an explosion of technology. The pace of innovation is increasing, but there’s more pressure to innovate. The pressure and need to innovate is greater than ever before.”