Surface Medical Inc.
2014 Outstanding Science and Technology Start-Up Sponsored by NAIT, Winner
Often the smallest solutions have the biggest impact. Surface Medical Inc. has discovered just that with their product CleanPatch.
The first-in-class medical technology is a cost effective solution that restores hospital equipment such as bed or gurney mattresses to an intact and cleanable state, thereby prolonging the life of the mattress and keeping patients safe from contracting a hospital-acquired infection.
“In a hospital the mattress and any soft surface is the workhorse. It’s where surgeons do all their work, it’s how patients get transported around and it’s where patients sleep. It’s a really fundamental piece of equipment that everybody forgets about,” says Fabrizio Chiacchia, President and CEO of Surface Medical Inc.
Currently there are limited methods for dealing with a damaged mattress: do nothing and risk patient safety, use tape that has not been clinically proven or replace the entire mattress.
Building Upon Others
Like all good science, it doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Recognizing that there was a potentially widespread problem occurring in hospitals, Chiacchia and the team began to study the scientific literature.
“Since about 1979, there have been a number of studies published that show damaged mattresses result in the transmission of diseases and those diseases can lead to outbreaks and deaths. These same studies showed that restoring the integrity of the mattress could stop the outbreak.”
With the scientific link made between damaged beds and disease, Chiacchia needed to determine the size of the market. “Our primary research showed that about 47 per cent of the beds in circulation have damage. Since then, we have found that it’s anywhere between 25 and 50 per cent.”
They then conducted a study to determine if the damaged sites contained microbes. The results indicated that every single mattress cut showed bacterial growth and 20 per cent of the time it was pathogenic, which could result in a hospital-acquired infection.
“These findings were significant. One in eight patients leave the hospital with an infection they acquired during treatment. Our research and the research of others shows that the surfaces around the patient is a contributing factor,” adds Chiacchia.
From mid-2011 until early-2013, the company did everything from basic research through to development and a successful clinical study. In less than 18 months, Surface Medical had their product, CleanPatch. Although it took a short amount of time, the journey to creating CleanPatch wasn’t without its share of obstacles.
“I think with these companies you need a little bit of luck to help you get through,” Chiacchia says. “We haven’t had any luck,” he adds.
They had numerous setbacks from the manufacturer changing the material halfway through prototype development to raising money, to educating consumers in order to foster adoption.
Chiacchia explains that perseverance was key. “I think a lot of people have really great ideas but you have to have a vision of where you want it to go and it’s about being able to fight through the day-to-day to get there.”
Simple Stuff – Big Impact
Although they faced adversity, the success of CleanPatch comes from three criteria: it tackles a large problem that no one else is adequately addressing; there aren’t practical alternative solutions and it achieves the desired outcome in a cost-effective way.
“For the cost of a new mattress, a hospital can purchase a box of CleanPatch and extend the life of 20 mattresses.”
Moving forward, Surface Medical is developing their CleanCare Project. The aim of this project is to work closely with frontline staff to identify other problems that result in hospital-acquired infection, and then solve them with solutions that have the same three criteria as CleanPatch.
“There are very simple things you can do in a hospital that have a really big impacts.”
Chiacchia says Alberta is a very unique place to be doing the sort of work that Surface Medical does. “Medtech is a rapidly changing field. The province of Alberta has the capacity and capability to support these discoveries. I am hoping our success and the success of others will contribute to creating a culture of medical innovation.”