Case in point is NeuroMetrix’s Quell device.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) gizmos have been around for decades. But they’ve had a reputation for being unwieldy, with a bunch of wires and pads.
“TENS devices have been around for 40 years, and some of the reasons they’re not effective for chronic pain is that they are underpowered, not designed for 24/7 use, and they’re not dosing at the right levels for the individual. Treatment was left up to basically guess work,” said Frank McGillin, NeuroMetrix’s chief commercial officer. (Hear from McGillin in person at DeviceTalks Boston on Oct. 2.)
Quell, in contrast, straps around the upper calf, with users adjusting levels of stimulation through a smartphone app that gets smarter over time – Quell’s algorithms automatically respond to users’ needs. If the wearer is constantly turning up the intensity level, Quell will raise the threshold level so that it starts dosing at a higher level. The device also tells if a user is asleep, lowering therapy intensity and even providing feedback about sleep patterns. Quell collects feedback about activity and gait levels and compiles a pain diary.
“What we’ve done is apply miniaturization and intelligence from the wearables category to a therapeutic device. We connected it to a cloud so we gather more data over time, apply machine learning and improve the overall experience,” McGillin said.
Besides increasing the effectiveness of the TENS therapy, making the device smart also makes it more efficient – increasing battery life, according to McGillin. “A lot of our innovation work has been optimizing battery usage in the early editions to allow several days of use between charges.”
NeuroMetrix (Waltham, Mass.) announced last month that it had shipped its 100,000th Quell since the FDA-cleared device’s launch in 2015. Quell sells for about $250 over-the-counter in the U.S., with replacements for the disposable electrodes costing about $30 a month, according to McGillin.
How much would regular use of opioids cost? “The opioid story is much bigger than the costs, it is about side effects, quality of life and access. Consumers are actively searching for drug-free options.”
So why aren’t Quell sales growing even faster? “For us, it’s a matter of building awareness and also changing behavior,” McGillin said. “It’s a pretty big paradigm shift for people to say, ‘I can wear this thing on my leg as opposed to taking a pill, and it’s gonna relieve my back pain or my fibromyalgia.'”