This Innovative Startup Is a Lifeline for Patients at Rural Hospitals

Chloe Alpert, the founder of Medinas.

(Courtesy)


When Jenn Morson Frederick went into labor with her baby in Annapolis, Maryland, she remembers being hooked up intravenously to an infusion pump because she needed antibiotics. She readily admits that the last thing on her mind was what would happen to the pump after she was done with it.

"Ten minutes from where I live, in Oakland, there are children who can't afford care and there are smaller practices just getting eaten up on cost."

In fact, the pump might go on to assist the labor of another new mother at a rural hospital many miles away, thanks to an innovative online marketplace called Medinas Health. Founded last year by a 27-year-old entrepeneur, Medinas Health buys used medical supplies and sells them to under-resourced hospitals who are happy to get functioning equipment at discounted prices.

The startup is built on a machine learning algorithm that uses historical data for medical devices to predict how much longer they can be used and still be sold at optimum prices on the secondary market. This allows hospitals to squeeze the most use out of their supplies.

Such transactions are the lifeblood for rural or critical access hospitals, says Chloe Alpert, the founder and CEO of Medinas. She first came up with the idea when she noticed a glaring discrepancy in the healthcare marketplace: From 2010 to 2016, 79 hospitals had closed their doors and hundreds more were at risk. At the same time, according to the National Academy of Medicine, the United States wastes medical supplies to the tune of $765 billion every year. On a household level, many people are saddled with medical debt: One in six Americans has past due healthcare bills. The numbers shocked Alpert.

What's more, she found that many used medical supplies were being shipped off to developing countries, partly to minimize the hospitals' liability. "[The model was] fundamentally flawed," she says. "I live in San Francisco and ten minutes from where I live, in Oakland, there are children who can't afford care and there are smaller practices just getting eaten up on cost."

Now, through Medinas, hospitals can offload unwanted clinical assets, and other medical offices can buy them at discounted prices. Since its launch in August 2017, the startup has sold just over 100 items, ranging from infusion pumps to an MRI machine.

Typically, hospitals hold onto their medical supplies as long as possible. Proprietary data from Medinas place the life expectancy of something like an infusion pump at ten years.

"Hospitals' biomed departments are going to try to keep that unit going for as long as they can because you have to replace an entire fleet and that's a significant financial overlay," says Suzi Collins, Director of Materials Management at Mountain Vista Medical Center in Gilbert, Ariz.

"I wanted to do something that would actually make an impact. Imagine healthcare costs going down instead of up."

But after many rinse-and-repeat repairs, it might be time to spring for a new unit. Medinas conducts cost-benefit analyses to show whether it's worth the financial cost for a hospital to hold on to old, creaky equipment. In some cases, manufacturers introduce a new version of a pump and discontinue support for older models, forcing hospitals' hands.

That's when Medinas may step in to facilitate the sale of older medical devices to different hospitals, connecting the lives of urban moms like Frederick to rural moms like Kelly Burch, who recently delivered her baby at the Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in rural Lebanon, New Hampshire.

At press time, Medinas had recently received more than 700 infusion pumps to sell from an Arizona medical center and was in negotiations with healthcare facilities who might be interested in buying them. For her work with Medinas, Alpert won $500,000 as part of the Forbes 30 Under 30 competition.

"It really blows my mind to see all these inefficiencies in healthcare, to know that Medinas is doing something tangible to address disparities in care," Alpert says. "I wanted to do something that would actually make an impact. Imagine healthcare costs going down instead of up. That is really neat."

Poornima Apte
Poornima Apte is an engineer turned award-winning freelance writer with clips in publications such as OZY, The Week, TechCrunch, JSTOR Daily and more.
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David Kurtz making DNA sequencing libraries in his lab.

Photo credit: Florian Scherer

When David M. Kurtz was doing his clinical fellowship at Stanford University Medical Center in 2009, specializing in lymphoma treatments, he found himself grappling with a question no one could answer. A typical regimen for these blood cancers prescribed six cycles of chemotherapy, but no one knew why. "The number seemed to be drawn out of a hat," Kurtz says. Some patients felt much better after just two doses, but had to endure the toxic effects of the entire course. For some elderly patients, the side effects of chemo are so harsh, they alone can kill. Others appeared to be cancer-free on the CT scans after the requisite six but then succumbed to it months later.

"Anecdotally, one patient decided to stop therapy after one dose because he felt it was so toxic that he opted for hospice instead," says Kurtz, now an oncologist at the center. "Five years down the road, he was alive and well. For him, just one dose was enough." Others would return for their one-year check up and find that their tumors grew back. Kurtz felt that while CT scans and MRIs were powerful tools, they weren't perfect ones. They couldn't tell him if there were any cancer cells left, stealthily waiting to germinate again. The scans only showed the tumor once it was back.

Blood cancers claim about 68,000 people a year, with a new diagnosis made about every three minutes, according to the Leukemia Research Foundation. For patients with B-cell lymphoma, which Kurtz focuses on, the survival chances are better than for some others. About 60 percent are cured, but the remaining 40 percent will relapse—possibly because they will have a negative CT scan, but still harbor malignant cells. "You can't see this on imaging," says Michael Green, who also treats blood cancers at University of Texas MD Anderson Medical Center.

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Lina Zeldovich
Lina Zeldovich has written about science, medicine and technology for Scientific American, Reader’s Digest, Mosaic Science and other publications. She’s an alumna of Columbia University School of Journalism and the author of the upcoming book, The Other Dark Matter: The Science and Business of Turning Waste into Wealth, from Chicago University Press. You can find her on http://linazeldovich.com/ and @linazeldovich.


Reporter Michaela Haas takes Aptera's Sol car out for a test drive in San Diego, Calif.

Courtesy Haas

The white two-seater car that rolls down the street in the Sorrento Valley of San Diego looks like a futuristic batmobile, with its long aerodynamic tail and curved underbelly. Called 'Sol' (Spanish for "sun"), it runs solely on solar and could be the future of green cars. Its maker, the California startup Aptera, has announced the production of Sol, the world's first mass-produced solar vehicle, by the end of this year. Aptera co-founder Chris Anthony points to the sky as he says, "On this sunny California day, there is ample fuel. You never need to charge the car."

If you live in a sunny state like California or Florida, you might never need to plug in the streamlined Sol because the solar panels recharge while driving and parked. Its 60-mile range is more than the average commuter needs. For cloudy weather, battery packs can be recharged electronically for a range of up to 1,000 miles. The ultra-aerodynamic shape made of lightweight materials such as carbon, Kevlar, and hemp makes the Sol four times more energy-efficient than a Tesla, according to Aptera. "The material is seven times stronger than steel and even survives hail or an angry ex-girlfriend," Anthony promises.

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Michaela Haas
Michaela Haas, PhD, is an award-winning reporter and author, most recently of Bouncing Forward: The Art and Science of Cultivating Resilience (Atria). Her work has been published in the New York Times, Mother Jones, the Huffington Post, and numerous other media. Find her at www.MichaelaHaas.com and Twitter @MichaelaHaas!