Imagine living in a world where you could not go to have a coffee with someone, or have a dinner with friends because you are embarrassed about your inability to swallow. That is the reality for millions of people living with dysphagia. Swallowing disabilities or disorders have tremendous effect on quality of life, with many patients being put on modified diets and feeding tubes, leading to severe health problems.
The Wisconsin-based company Swallow Solutions help patients with dysphagia to swallow through oropharyngeal strengthening. They have designed a device, SwallowStrong, which guide oral muscle therapy and track its progress by using existing evidence-based protocols. The device is a custom-molded mouthpiece with sensors that is placed on the roof of the mouth. The tongue then presses against the mouthpiece to measure the pressure at different points of the tongue. The sensors transmit the information to a connected device that displays the performance in real-time, and helps healthcare providers understand which muscles are getting stronger and which ones need more work. The software even have different performance levels, and automatically calculates therapy targets.
Swallow first launched their product in 2012, but stopped the marketing in 2013 before launching a second version. The new version, which have received FDA clearance, include more advanced pressure sensors, easier to use software, and a cloud-based data management system that allow caregivers to remotely monitor patients’ progress of home-based therapy. The mouthpiece alone costs $300, and a full product package, including a touchscreen device, costs $3,000.
A study recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that the device improved lingual strength in patients, while at the same time decreasing pneumonia diagnoses with 67 percent, and a 61 percent drop in hospital admissions. Number of bed days among patients even decreased by 56 percent, resulting in cost-savings of more than $1 million. The patients themselves reported less difficulty swallowing, improved quality of life and mental health, and an increased desire for food.
The SwallowStrong device is an amazing example of how we can develop new technology to improve and shorten rehabilitation in multiple disorders. By digitizing current guidelines, we have the opportunity of making healthcare more efficient, cheaper, and put the patient in focus. And that is what makes Swallow Solutions unique. It is not only the innovative technological solution that lower hospital admissions and lower overall health costs. It is the understanding of patients and their needs. They have not just built a solution because they are interested in technology, but because they have identified a real problem that affect millions of people, and have a desire to help.
The company recently raised $1.1 million, led by the Wisconsin Super Angel Fund, with participation by previous investors Venture Management, BrightStar WisconsinFoundation, Wisconsin Investment Partners, NEW Capital Fund, Gen6 Capital Partners, and several individuals. Some of the money will be used to further develop their own line of thickened beverage products that prevent dehydration and avoid food and liquid going down the wrong pipe in people with dysphagia.