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South Side start-up Mobile Aspect has new plan for endoscopes

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By Bonnie Pfister
Thursday, May 7, 2009

Amid concerns over infections linked to improperly cleaned endoscopes, a South Side start-up company has built a system to keep tabs on those devices.

Mobile Aspects Inc. uses radio-frequency identification to track and secure the scopes — which cost tens of thousands of dollars each — that are cleaned and reused hundreds of times. A thin flexible tube fitted with a lens, an endoscope is inserted via nose, mouth or rectum, transmitting images from the respiratory or gastrointestinal tract.

Keeping the scopes secure between use — and tracking which staffers have used which scopes on which patients — is the goal of Mobile Aspect's system, said founder and CEO Suneil Mandava.

"If you go to any hospital, you see them just hanging up like you would hang your hat," Mandava said of the way endoscopes are typically stored in open cabinets. "They're all hanging together, touching each other. There are rolltop doors, but no one ever closes them. A nurse could be standing right next to it, drinking coffee."

Food and Drug Administration officials and industry experts confirmed Wednesday that no federal regulations exist to monitor how endoscopes are stored.

Mobile Aspect's rolling "iRIScope" cabinet secures the scopes behind a locked glass door. Staff members use security badges to key in and log that they are taking the scope. The system automatically brings up a list of patients, and the staff member clicks on the name of the patient. The type of procedure and prescribing doctor are also logged.

Such a tracking system could have alleviated some of the concerns of patients at three Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals. In December, the agency began notifying nearly 11,000 patients who had received endoscopies at VA hospitals in Florida, Tennessee and Georgia that improperly cleaned scopes may have been used for their procedures.

Among nearly 7,000 endoscopic patients who have been tested, five have HIV and 33 have hepatitis. A VA spokeswoman has said it is not certain that contaminated scopes caused the infections, and no similar problems have been reported at VA facilities in Pennsylvania.

Upon the equipment's return to the cabinet, the iRIScope system prompts the hospital staff to verify that high-level decontamination is complete.

Mandava, 31, a Fox Chapel native now living in Washington's Landing, founded Mobile Aspects in 2000 after completing a biomedical engineering degree from Johns Hopkins University. The company, which employs 45 people, earlier built a similar secure, mobile cabinet for such surgical supplies as stents and implants. Customers include Children's Hospital of Boston, Massachusetts General and the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

Alyson Cole, operations director for UPenn's perioperative services, said the iRIScope cabinet was designed in partnership with her hospital's needs.

"Our director really believes in using technology that allows for the passive tracking of materials," Cole said. "It increases the level of accuracy and allows you to make sure the equipment is in good working order when a patient is ready for it."

Mandava on Monday demonstrated the device to Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair. Murphy said that while not endorsing the product, its technology is something he will draw to the attention of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"If everybody follows procedures, endoscopy is safe for patients," said Murphy, who sits on the health subcommittee in the House's Energy and Commerce Committee. "The idea is how do you track and make sure every step is followed properly. What we saw here is a fascinating device that actually does that."

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