Medvis Simulates Better Device Development

Screenshot from one of Medvis’ simulations

Medvis Simulates Better Device Development

Co-inventor Noah Syroid of Medvis during a simulation

While medical device inventors routinely generate innovative, even groundbreaking ideas, they often need assistance transforming these ideas into successful products that improve patient care. That assistance is increasingly taking the form of ensuring that the end users of these devices can easily learn and incorporate new technology. It means making sure that busy clinicians do not have to fiddle with technology, that patients do not have to worry about complex instructions, and that both benefit from improved efficiency and lowered costs.

Applied Medical Visualizations (Medvis) is a U-spinout born of the need to improve medical technology so that it can be more useful. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration once recommended usability tests, the agency recently made it a mandatory part of applying for medical device approval.[12]

“We have to look at technology in terms of how useful is it to clinicians. If it is not useful, how do we change it?” says Jim Agutter, assistant professor of architecture and CEO of Medvis, which develops software, evaluates usability, and uses a combination of the two to develop innovative healthcare training.

Co-inventor Jim Agutter, assistant professor of architecture

Early on Agutter and business partner Noah Syroid began working with Dwayne Westenskow, then director of the Anesthesiology Bioengineering Laboratory at the U. Westenskow was researching the visualization of anesthesia patient monitoring technology, or how clinicians track the waveforms and numbers generated by the patient’s body while under anesthesia during surgical procedures.

Westenskow had received a NIH grant to develop new technology in the operating room. “The team thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way to do this that presents the information in a way that supports the clinician’s mental model so they can make better decisions,’” explains Agutter. To achieve this, Westenskow consulted with experts from a diverse range of fields, including psychologists and architects such as Julio Bermudez, then an associate professor of architecture at the U, who also had an interest in the visualization of complex information. The team also worked with Stefano Foresti and utilized the resources at the Center for High Performance Computing. In this way, Medvis is a highly interdisciplinary effort that reflects the collaborative problem-solving emphasis at the company.

Screenshot from Medvis’ Safe Sedation Training Software

“We are really fortunate to be surrounded by amazing collaborators with a variety of skills. Depending on the project we ask, ‘Who do we need at any given time to help solve these complex problems?’ We can bring all these different perspectives together when needed. This approach is much better, much richer than if we all came from the same background,” explains Agutter.

“A fundamental basis of the company is solving problems from an interdisciplinary perspective. Instead of putting up walls, we’ve worked to tear them down,” says Noah Syroid, Chief Technical Officer. “I’m an engineer and can build this cool technology, but the things in my mindset wouldn’t necessarily work for clinicians. It doesn’t always match what’s happening with the clinician and the patient. There are all these other steps involved in design and the psychology of a mental model.”

Agutter and his colleagues found ways to improve visualization, which they patented and then licensed to large medical manufacturers in collaboration with the U. While working on the anesthesia project they realized that developing usability tests and evaluating technology in a simulated medical environment could be a valuable service.

(A student using Medvis’ Safe Sedation Training program

“Companies often have a lot of great engineers but are not close to the clinic,” says Agutter. “Because we have Drs. Talmage Egan and Ken Johnson as business partners, we have an insight and understanding of the clinical problems and workflow that is very deep. This allows us to develop solutions that solve real clinical problems.”

Along with improving the usability of medical technology, based upon a need identified by partner Dr. Talmage Egan, they created what would become one of Medvis’ core products, moderate sedation training. Many medical and dental procedures that involve light anesthesia do not require a fully trained anesthesiologist but they do require a clinician who knows how to use the drugs and monitoring technology. Until Medvis introduced its Safe Sedation Training (SST), no widely accessible, standardized training was available to sedation practitioners.

Medvis developed a standardized curriculum to train clinicians who provide sedation. “You want to avoid on-the-job training by having clinicians try it out in a simulated environment before they work with a real patient,” explains Agutter. After completing a didactic course and watching demos, the trainees walk through patient simulations. The course has become a mandatory part of training for many U healthcare providers and Medvis has had large contracts to train clinicians from outside the U as well. The SST training is endorsed by several major anesthesiology societies.

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[12] “Premarket Information - Device Design and Documentation Processes,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, accessed July 30, 2016,