October 14, 2013

West Hartford tech firm aims to reduce spread of hospital infections

Photo | Contributed
ReadyDock:UV is a chemical-free disinfecting docking station for tablets.
David Engelhardt, president and founder, ReadyDock Inc.

As a software developer, David Engelhardt may not seem like the most likely candidate to tackle patient safety at your local hospital.

But as the president and founder of West Hartford-based ReadyDock Inc., he is at the forefront of addressing one of the biggest emerging health risks to hospital patients — the computer tablet.

“Doctors are using tablets at five times the rate of the general public,” Engelhardt said, “and because, by nature, tablets require the use of fingers, that opens up the potential to infect patients by the transference of pathogens.”

Hospital acquired infections (HAIs) have been a major issue in the health care industry, especially since it significantly adds costs by requiring further treatments for patients.

Even worse, those infections can be deadly. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that more than 1.7 million patients in the U.S. each year contract a new illness while in a hospital, resulting in more than 100,000 deaths annually.

Engelhardt hopes to stem the risk of hospital acquired infections through tablets, which are increasingly being used in the healthcare sector for everything from patient surveys and check-ins to education and patient interactions.

His company's latest product, ReadyDock:UV is the world's only chemical-free disinfecting docking station for tablets.

“If hospitals need to store and recharge the tablets anyway, we thought it would make sense to disinfect them at the same time,” Engelhardt said, noting his docking stations can hold up to five tablets at once and can disinfect a tablet's surface in less than 60 seconds.

That's significant for a healthcare industry that Engelhardt says is acutely aware of the risk of HAIs, but struggles to monitor cleaning and equipment decontamination.

According to a 2013 poll of infection preventionists conducted by the Association of Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiololgy, more than 64 percent of respondents said they simply rely on observation to assess cleanliness of equipment.

But ReadyDock has taken the guesswork out of decontamination for tablets, says Dr. Louise Dembry, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Yale-New Haven Hospital, which has been testing the effectiveness of ReadyDock technology for the past four years.

“We expose various parts of a tablet to a set concentration of seven different bacteria, most of which are prevalent in healthcare settings,” Dembry said. “Then we subjected them to ReadyDock disinfection, with a greater than 99 percent kill in all cases for each organism tested.”

That's good news for hospitals nationwide that collectively — according to CDC estimates — incur more than $33 billion annually in HAI-related excess medical costs.

“The market opportunity [for our technology] is huge,” Engelhardt says. “In the healthcare industry in the U.S. alone, it's a $500 million market.”

With individual units selling for around $2,500 each, hospitals are waiting for their dose. Currently more than 100 hospitals across the United States — with more in the pipeline — are using technology from ReadyDock, which was founded in 2012.

The company's latest advancements have attracted more than just interest from healthcare facilities. Last year, the company received $150,000 in pre-seed funding from Connecticut Innovations (CI), the state's quasi-public investment arm, which provided an additional $200,000 earlier this year.

“Given the expanding use of tablet devices in the healthcare sector, we believe there is strong market potential for ReadyDock's timely and innovative solutions,” said Claire Leonardi, chief executive officer and executive director of CI.

For Engelhardt, his company's success is very much a Connecticut story, where he has lived since 1986.

“We worked with a Connecticut-based vendor to design our storage units and have partnered with the University of Hartford and Yale University,” he said. “We are spending a lot of money here in Connecticut and are hoping to help create good manufacturing jobs.”

The applications for ReadyDock's disinfecting stations are far-reaching from retail to food service. Engelhardt highlights restaurants as an example. The greatest concentration of germs in a restaurant isn't in the bathroom, Engelhardt explained.

“It's on the menus,” he said.

But while there are other potentially lucrative market opportunities for his disinfection technology, Engelhardt says his company will remain laser-focused on the healthcare sector where the need is greatest.

“I am an entrepreneur and I care about people,” he said. “I don't want a hospital patient to die from using a tablet.”

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