Silvia Pfeiffer has always been on the leading edge of video innovation and research. In 1999, she was awarded a PhD in computer science from the University of Mannheim where her thesis was focused on content analysis and what was then called ‘new media’ applications for video.
For context, YouTube didn’t even launch until 2005.
She’s worked on content detection and video search for some of the biggest companies in the world. The prescience of naming her telehealth web service Coviu – five years before the pandemic – is perhaps fitting.
“It blew my mind when they had to pick a name [for the disease] that was so close to our company name,” Dr Pfeiffer confesses. “But there was nothing we could do. We weren’t going to change our name.”
Coviu in fact stands for ‘Collaborative Viewing’ – the core functionality of the telehealth platform.
If you have accessed a GP or specialist or psychology service online over the last couple of years, you’ve probably already used a Coviu product and don’t even know it. The software is designed to be completely skinned in the branding of your healthcare provider.
But Coviu is far more than just a video conferencing service. It’s more like an augmented reality telehealth platform. Yes, you can conduct video appointments with patients, but you can also administer diagnostic testing via artificial intelligence augmented reality features.
“It gives them medical devices inside the video call that they can use,” Dr Pfeiffer says.
These include things like standardised therapeutic assessments for speech therapy and range of motion assessments.
The company recently received a $6.5 million grant from the Medical Research Future Fund to expand their services to include a reliable wound care assessment tool.
Coviu, a commercialisation project of CSIRO, was cofounded in 2016 by Dr Pfeiffer and the company’s chief technologist Nathan Oehlman.
It was a natural progression for Dr Pfeiffer who had spent several years working on a video product with CSIRO that could enhance learning outcomes for child patients from rural areas who were engaging in treatment and respite care via the Royal Far West Hospital.
“We started working with Royal Far West School, based in Manly, which is placed right next to Royal Far West Hospital,” Dr Pfeiffer says.
“The schools have developed custom programs around speech therapy and occupational therapy for those kids, so that when they go back [to their communities] both the hospital and the school often stay in contact with those kids and continue to provide care remotely.
“We were approached because they wanted to do a new program and didn’t really feel comfortable with any of the video conferencing tools available. So, I created a demonstrator to show how it could be done with this new web technology and all the inclusion of games and other things they need to keep the rural kids engaged in a video call.”
The resulting product was called SWAY. That was in 2014 and three years later, finding the school was still very invested in this tech, Dr Pfeiffer knew she was onto a winner.
“It was still better than anything else that they could get,” she says. “So, we commercialised that out of the CSIRO. Out of those learnings came Coviu.”
Initially, the company was focused on delivering services for patients in remote areas – a challenge that has been facing Australian policy makers and healthcare providers for time immemorial.
But the recent surge in demand created by the pandemic has proven a testcase for the benefits of providing long term telehealth access to all Australians, regardless of location.
The product was initially offered to smaller allied health practices such as occupational therapists and mental health services, but that pool of participating practices massively increased over Australia’s rolling lockdown periods.
“Within two weeks we went from doing 400 consultations a day to 25,000 a day,” says Dr Pfeiffer.
“We now have about 70,000 clinicians on our platform. We’ve delivered about 5.5 million video consultations over the last two years.”
In addition to the augmented reality AI testing that can be done, the software automatically tracks a patient’s progress over time and generates its own reports, which saves clinicians on hours spent doing manual paperwork.
The government have announced telehealth items will remain on Medicare through the end of this year, but there is anticipation that they may then announce a decision to make telehealth access a permanent feature of the Australian healthcare landscape.
“I believe that will happen,” says Dr Pfeiffer. “Once that is announced that will create a great foundation for new business models for all healthcare providers.”
Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.
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