Earaches. They send 11 million families to the doctor’s office annually, and they are the number one reason antibiotics are prescribed to children. Yet ear ailments are misdiagnosed between 50-70 percent of the time. It’s a shocking statistic, until you imagine the typical office visit for an earache and see the squirming toddler on the lap of an exhausted caregiver, the child shrieking in protest as the doctor brings the otoscope near the painful ear to being the exam.
That scenario is one ear specialist Dr. Aaron Moberly was very familiar with when he partnered with AI expert Dr. Metin Gurcan to address the misdiagnosis of ear ailments. The Ohio State University professors began working together in 2015. Together, the pair developed a technological solution that allows physicians to make speedy, accurate diagnoses by creating a digital image of the inside of the ear and then using AI technologies to compare that ear to known ear maladies. Otologic Technologies was formed in 2019 when the OSU professors were looking for a way to take their ear care solution from the laboratory and into family medical practices.
Chief Strategy Officer Dan Wenger said parents may be hesitant to visit the doctor during the COVID-19 pandemic, but making these visits easier and more efficient – plus the potential to integrate their technology into virtual doctor visits — may help reduce hesitancy and prevent long-term issues.
“Not treating chronic ear infections can lead to permanent hearing impairment, especially for younger kids,” Wenger said. “(Hearing impairment) can lead to lower scholastic achievement. It can lead to delayed speech. It can lead to kids dropping out if they’re not doing well in school, which leads to unemployment. As an adult, there’s all kinds of impacts (that result from hearing impairments). We think that giving more access to families and doctors to connect for ear exams will help everybody.”
To get their tools into the hands of the medical community as quickly as possible, Otologic has explored many pathways to the commercial marketplace.
“Working through our regulatory pathway, we have come to the conclusion that there’s an opportunity for us to offer our technology in layers,” Wenger said. “The first step of our technology analyzes a video of the ear exam. It stitches all the different frames of the video together into one big, beautiful image. Contrast that to the little glimpse that someone got with a manual otoscope of the eardrum; now we’re turning it into a (panoramic) image. We think there’s an opportunity for that to be wrapped in a telehealth platform and applied in our pandemic world.”
The pandemic halted plans to bring the corporate headquarters to a Milwaukee co-working space and forced the organization into remote work. As the company prepares for a pre-seed funding round, they have renewed their plans to relocate from Madison to Milwaukee. Leadership at Otologic is excited about what they see as an increased interest in startup and health tech communities in Milwaukee. Wenger and CEO Darrin McCall met 15 years ago at GE Healthcare and have maintained many industry connections in Southeastern Wisconsin, making Milwaukee a natural fit for the company’s center of operations.