Bridging the Gap
The U.S. government, international humanitarian groups and renowned hospitals are in line for what a Duluth tech startup is now ready to offer: The Phrazer. It’s a digital and wireless handheld device that helps diagnose a patient when he or she and the care provider speak different languages.
The patient speaks into the device’s microphone, and seconds later, a video program loads with a doctor speaking in the patient’s native tongue. It helps determine what ails the patient, the severity and necessity for immediate care, and then relays that information to the on-site caregiver.
Geacom Inc. began working on the device in 2007 and was in the testing phase when the U.S. government called last year to see if the Phrazer could assist after Haiti’s devastating earthquake. Starting in September, Geacom introduced 300 Phrazers to early adopters such as the U.S. military and Duluth hospitals. The goal is to produce 10,000 by year-end.
“Starting from an idea in Duluth, which already seemed pretty unusual to people, and simultaneously doing it in an economic depression, has been a fun surprise,” says Geacom CEO and Founder Mathew Johnson. “We’ve been able to take a very sophisticated product and program and be able to bring it to life and have it available.”
Its prototype has been in trials at many hospitals and overseas in places such as Cameroon and Honduras.
“We’ve had thousands and thousands of patients and people using the device,” Johnson says. “The reaction has been extremely positive. It’s been solving a major problem.”
Johnson identifies one of the problems as errors in translation between the patient, translator and caregiver. Sometimes those errors can mean life or death.
“Today there are a lot of lives lost and pain and expense involved in the marketplace that we are entering and helping,” Johnson adds.
In Honduras, for example, the Phrazer’s software guided low-literacy populations through assessments of the parasites and diseases afflicting them. In triage situations, the Phrazer could speed assessment times while maintaining accuracy.