Digitally bridging the healthcare divide
From helping to manage infectious diseases to reducing the damaging effects of inefficient diagnoses – this Aussie innovation is a game changer.
Fighting the good fight
Dr. Sean Parsons knew he and his colleagues were losing the battle.
In 2008, Sean was a clinician fighting the H1N1 pandemic in Queensland hospitals. Floods of symptomatic patients overloaded testing labs, causing test result delays. That led to inefficient swine flu detection and insufficient, inaccurate treatment.
“People had one option for diagnosis and treatment, which was to physically go in and see a doctor,” Sean says. “Otherwise they would just soldier on at work and school and find out they had it later.”
According to the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience, there were 44,403 confirmed cases of H1N1 in Australia from May 2009 – December 2010, with nearly 200 deaths.
“Despite the medical community’s hard work, we didn’t do a good enough job stopping community transmission,” Sean says.
Power to the people
Sean realised relying on in-person testing at hospitals wasn’t a viable long-term solution. He wanted to create a way for the public to diagnose itself – quickly, affordably and easily.
“I knew if we could put the power into the hands of consumers and make testing more accessible, we could do a better job of decreasing transmission and controlling outbreaks.”
While he continued his full-time role as a clinician, Sean started exploring how to bring his idea to life. After consulting science and technology experts, he landed on an answer. In 2010 he founded Ellume, a Brisbane-based company that produces digital diagnostic tests for use at home and in medical facilities.
Rapid at-home tests
Consumers can purchase at-home tests online or at their local pharmacy. The tests come with sample-collecting supplies and a small digital analyser that connects to smartphones via Bluetooth.
Users download the Ellume app and submit a sample via the analyser. Within 12-15 minutes, depending on the test, results and suggested next steps are displayed on the user’s phone.
Ellume has developed at-home tests to detect influenza and COVID-19. The company also produces a platform used in professional labs to diagnose flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), strep throat, tuberculosis and COVID-19 antigens and antibodies.
“By our calculations, for every million tests we make, we prevent about 800 premature deaths,” he says. “That’s a function of people getting tested early and not spreading these diseases.”
Right now Ellume products are not available in Australia due to Federal Government legislative barriers prohibiting the sale of any home Covid-19 test products
Embracing innovation to improve lives
Sean and his Ellume team have taken advantage of progress in mobile technology and increased connectivity to make products more effective.
“As technology has gotten better, we’ve been able to improve our instructions and cut down on user error rates,” Sean says. “On the app we provide clear, step-by-step visual guidelines to walk them through how to use the test.”
Sean says another major benefit is that Ellume products can “help users solve their whole problem.” The app gives actionable next steps based on test results, from providing education and a suggested course of action to connecting users to telehealth providers and producing digital positive test certificates to show medical professionals.
Helping combat covid-19
Twelve years after fighting H1N1, Sean found himself battling another pandemic – COVID 19. He says Ellume was able to quickly develop an at-home COVID test because of its experience making flu tests.
“We had a lot of momentum because we’d run a lot of big studies in the past,” he says. “We applied all the testing and engineering and technical problems we overcame to developing the COVID test.”
After initial development, a new version was designed to allow Ellume to scale-up manufacturing. This helped the company earn a $231.8 million contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to produce 500,000 tests a day overseas.
A consumer healthcare revolution
Sean says the healthcare landscape is changing – no longer are clinicians at the centre of care.
“We’re in the middle of a consumer healthcare revolution,” Sean says. “I couldn’t imagine my grandfather going to the library to learn about his symptoms. But today we search things online first up. Consumers are so much more informed now.”
Though medical professionals will always be indispensable, Sean says he’s in favour of shifting more power to consumers.
“It’s unfair for clinicians to say patients don’t take responsibility for their health and then complain about them Googling their illnesses,” he says. “I wholeheartedly support consumers being front and centre.”
Sean hopes at-home disease diagnostic tests become the norm, much like at-home pregnancy tests are now.
“We’ve spearheaded a new type of product – consumer diagnostics for infectious diseases – and brought best-in-class technology to the world,” he says.
“Going forward, I’d like to see even more consumers empowered to manage these infectious diseases themselves, to feel comfortable and confident they can get access to the right treatment.”
 U.S. Cuts $231 Million Deal to Provide 15-Minute COVID-19 At-Home Tests. NPR, 01 Feb 2021.