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.
Get our top stories twice a month
Follow us on
Brain Cancer Chromosomes. Chromosomes prepared from a malignant glioblastoma visualized by spectral karyotyping (SKY) reveal an enormous degree of chromosomal instability -- a hallmark of cancer. Created by Thomas Ried, 2014

Glioblastoma is an aggressive and deadly brain cancer, causing more than 10,000 deaths in the US per year. In the last 30 years there has only been limited improvement in the survival rate despite advances in radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Today the typical survival rate is just 14 months and that extra time is spent suffering from the adverse and often brutal effects of radiation and chemotherapy.

Scientists are trying to design more effective treatments for glioblastoma with fewer side effects. Now, a team at the Department of Neurosurgery at Houston Methodist Hospital has created a magnetic helmet-based treatment called oncomagnetic therapy: a promising non-invasive treatment for shrinking cancerous tumors. In the first patient tried, the device was able to reduce the tumor of a glioblastoma patient by 31%. The researchers caution, however, that much more research is needed to determine its safety and effectiveness.

Keep Reading Keep Reading
Sarah Philip
Sarah Philip is a London-based freelance journalist who writes about science, film and TV. You can follow her on Twitter @sarahph1lip.

Astronaut and Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency displays Extra Dwarf Pak Choi plants growing aboard the International Space Station. The plants were grown for the Veggie study which is exploring space agriculture as a way to sustain astronauts on future missions to the Moon or Mars.

Johnson Space Center/NASA

Astronauts at the International Space Station today depend on pre-packaged, freeze-dried food, plus some fresh produce thanks to regular resupply missions. This supply chain, however, will not be available on trips further out, such as the moon or Mars. So what are astronauts on long missions going to eat?

Going by the options available now, says Christel Paille, an engineer at the European Space Agency, a lunar expedition is likely to have only dehydrated foods. “So no more fresh product, and a limited amount of already hydrated product in cans.”

For the Mars mission, the situation is a bit more complex, she says. Prepackaged food could still constitute most of their food, “but combined with [on site] production of certain food products…to get them fresh.” A Mars mission isn’t right around the corner, but scientists are currently working on solutions for how to feed those astronauts. A number of boundary-pushing efforts are now underway.

Keep Reading Keep Reading
Payal Dhar
Payal is a writer based in New Delhi who has been covering science, technology, and society since 1998.