Surgical lights at Brandon Medical Stand during the Arab Health 2017 at Dubai World Trade Center. Image Credit: Atiq-ur-Rehman/Gulf News Archives

Dubai: The number one cause of death globally is cardiac disease, costing more than $1 trillion annually worldwide. With the current methods of care, there is only a 50 per cent success rate.

Arvind Thiagarajan, founder of digital stethoscope maker HD Medical, believes he can change that.

Diagnosed with a heart murmur at a young age, Thiagarajan, who is also chief executive of HD Medical, said he was determined to help people with similar problems.

The key problem he is seeking to solve? The lack of specialists. In the US, there are approximately 30,000 cardiologists, meaning there is one specialist for every 10,000 people. The US-based Indian entrepreneur says that in developing countries, the ratio is even worse.

In Dubai this week for Arab Health, Thiagarajan told Gulf News that the UAE was a “great place to pilot” his company’s new product, the HD Steth, a digital stethoscope that provides instant information on a patient’s heart condition whilst feeding information into the cloud, where it is parsed and analysed by powerful algorithms to predict future diseases, and exactly when they will begin to present themselves.

“With this new technology, it only takes a few minutes to get an assessment, whereas now it takes hours or even days, in which time people could have died,” he added.

The experts appear to agree with this assessment.

Dr Nelson Schiller, a professor of medicine and anaesthesia at the University of California, San Francisco, said that HD Steth was “transforming the way medicine is practised at the point of care… saving time and costs while improving outcomes.”

Dr Doug Johnston, a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic in the US, added that patient monitoring with HD Steth contributes to the “containment of major adverse cardiac effects such as heart failure and post-op cardiac events.”

With cardiovascular diseases accounting for roughly 30 per cent of all deaths in the UAE, increasingly amongst younger patients, Thiagarajan said he was very excited about entering the UAE, and the wider Gulf region.

“It’s a very sophisticated market, and it’s a great place to pilot our technology.”

So much so, according to Thiagarajan, the US technology will be released in the UAE three months earlier than it is released in the US, sometime in the second quarter of 2018.

HD Medical has already partnered with City Pharmacy, a UAE-based medical equipment distributor, and is running “interesting” pilots with the Cleveland Clinic in Abu Dhabi.

“We want to continue piloting it here with a few large hospitals,” Thiagarajan said, adding that in the Gulf, there was still a pressing need to “cut down costs, save lives and access better health care at the point of care.”

Eventually, the top executive said, he would like the stethoscope to be in people’s homes. That means bringing the price point down from its current retail value of $500, which Thiagarajan says his company is doing, expecting the personal version to be released sometime in 2019.

Beyond the stethoscope, however, Thiagarajan is planning for a fully digital future in the medical world. He said that eventually, HD Medical would be employing similar systems in ultrasound machines, while utilising new technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Asked if this was an ambition for 10 or 20 years down the line, Thiagarajan replied with a smile: “no, this is two to five years away.”