BY THAD AYERS at Tulsa World - Jun 27, 2013 Updated Feb 18, 2019
Early concussion detection could sway in a medical professional’s favor after the recent launch of a mobile medical application based in Tulsa.
The Sway Balance app is U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved for diagnosing concussions is the signature product of Sway Medical, founded by Chief Executive Chase Curtiss.
He, along with the other four members of his team, use algorithms which utilize the motion sensors in an iPhone or iPad—like what’s used to lean left or right in Temple Run—to provide an objective balance test.
“There’s no objective test to check for balance,” said the 29-year-old Wichita State University graduate. “This product is a way to connect medical providers to their patients.”
Curtiss said this is a “first step in trying to build mobile medical diagnostics” at the launch party for the $1.3 million tech startup last Friday at i2E’s Tulsa office, 618 E. Third St.
A concussion is a brain injury characterized by headaches, confusion, dizziness and balance issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Concussions in sports have gotten more prominent the last few years.
Scrutiny over the treatment of the head injury hit a climax when National Football League linebacker Junior Seau killed himself last May. Researchers later said Seau had a degenerative brain disease often linked with multiple head injuries.
Professional, collegiate and youth sports organizations have since pushed for concussion awareness and training—a change from several years ago when the injury was considered benign, causing an athlete to be injured for perhaps a game.
“With Sway, you get numbers where an athlete should be,” said Dr. Mark Lovell, a concussion expert who developed ImPACT Application Inc., which tests cognitive concussion signs for professional and high school athletes. “So you are able to get a check over time on their progress.”
ImPACT and Sway Medical LLC recently partnered together, paring the ability of Dr. Lovell’s app—which tests the cognitive aspects of a concussion—with the Sway Balance.
Dr. Lovell’s products are considered tops in the industry and are used by more than 7,400 high schools, over a thousand colleges and universities and numerous clinical centers and doctors.
Teams from the NFL, NHL, MLB and professional wrestling’s WWE use ImPACT products.
Mobile products made for checking the cognition issues are already available to those on the sidelines, but as of yet no mobile—or cost effective—product exists to check athlete balance.
“When someone has a concussion, it affects a number of systems,” said Dr. Lovell, whose product was first used by the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers. “The brain also has to deal with balance issues because when someone is injured, their equilibrium could be off.”
Other systems cost upwards of $20,000 initially and are not really mobile, Curtiss said. Sway costs $199 annually per medical professional with possible discounts for groups, he added.
“You want to be able to pick up the injury on the field,” Dr. Lovell added. “If someone has a concussion and stays on the field, they’ll continue to do damage to themselves.”
Using a point-based system, the app has the user hold the device against his or her chest and are tested in five stances for 10 seconds: once with the standing position, twice with the feet in tandem—right foot first then left foot—and twice on one foot—left then right.
It’s suggested that the test be conducted three to four times after someone is injured and may have a concussion.
Once completed, the points are compared to a prior baseline test done when the athlete or patient was in a stable condition.
Curtiss said, however, that he doesn’t want his startup stuck on the sidelines.
He said Sway Balance could also apply, with modification, in the medical field to help those who may have other disorders that affect balance.
“We want to have varying protocols so people can change based on needs,” said Curtiss. “And we want medical professionals to be able to customize this for patients of all types.”
The app could also fill a niche in the “outcome-based medicine” initiative in the Affordable Care Act with its FDA approval.
Government reimbursement to health care professionals is more closely connected with patient outcomes under that part of the law, said i2E Venture Advisor Mark Lauinger from his Tulsa office.
“We like their pivot from what was more of an athletic standpoint to clinics, geriatrics … where budgets are a lot more defined and there are more opportunities for partnerships,” Lauinger said.
Since Sway’s inception more than 2 years ago, i2E has helped grow the tech startup with consulting and financial assistance.
Lauinger said $300,000 of Sway’s $1.3 million in funding came from i2E.
“He has proven to be very coachable, but more importantly, a very mature CEO beyond his years,” Lauinger said. “One of the questions early on was that he didn’t have the CEO experience ... and he has done very well overall.” «