OtoSim: Simulation-Based Medical Teaching Tools
It began with a desire to improve medical education, but has now been transformed into a successful start-up company. OtoSim, which was co-founded by Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery’s Professor Vito Forte, is creating new learning tools that help medical students diagnose eye and ear conditions. By combining hands-on experience with simulation technology, OtoSim is improving doctor training. Forte is a recipient of the 2015 Manning Innovation Award. Faculty of Medicine writer Erin Howe spoke with Forte to learn how OtoSim is advancing medical education and health care.
What is OtoSim, and how will it help improve people’s health?
OtoSim and OphthoSim are simulation-based teaching tools we created to help medical students and other allied health care professionals more accurately diagnose ear and eye conditions before they practice on patients. Our technologies bridge the gap between classroom teaching and the patient examination. OtoSim and OpthoSim accelerate the learning process with proven effectiveness and efficiency. A little known fact is that most primary health care providers are less than 50 per cent accurate in diagnosing disorders of the ear and eye and medical schools around the world report that graduating students are uncomfortable with these examinations. Better diagnosis will reflect in better outcomes in patient care.
How did you arrive at the concept for OtoSim?
My co-inventor, Professor Paolo Campisi — who is also the Vice Chair of Education and the Director of Postgraduate Education in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery — and I wanted to change they way these skills are taught. We tested a prototype device with medical students and found simulation using OtoSim improved these skills by over 40 per cent with a little intervention. We’ve introduced this teaching method across all years of the undergraduate curriculum at the Faculty of Medicine and into the objective structured clinical examinations.
How has the business grown since it was established?
Since our company was incorporated in 2011, we’ve sold our products to more than 150 medical schools and simulation centers across North America and around the world. This past year, we signed on over 40 distributors worldwide including China, which we hope will increase sales and give us a strong global footprint. We’ve also expanded our line to include OtoSim2, an educators’ toolkit as well as companion apps. We continue to innovate and create lower-cost devices to make our technologies available to even the most disadvantaged counties and have a compassionate lending program to help meet their needs. We are also proud to count many prominent schools as our clients.
Why are you passionate about OtoSim?
I’ve been involved in medical education throughout my career and consider myself to be part of the dismal 50 per cent diagnostic accuracy “problem” having maintained the status quo in teaching our students. I’ve seen the discomfort patients experience during these teaching sessions. I’ve also seen a decreasing focus on clinical exams with fewer educators who may not have the necessary time to teach these procedural skills in a time-fixed, ever-expanding curriculum.
Tell us about the people at U of T who’ve mentored or inspired you.
We received support from our departmental chairs, Professors Pat Gullane and Ian Witterick, who both saw the potential for OtoSim from the first crude prototype. They continue to support us and along with Professor Albino Chiodo (former undergraduate director of the department) and the generous support from Mr. Ralph Chiodo (no relation), owner and founder of Active Green and Ross, helped equip the Faculty of Medicine with the technologies. Also Professor Emeritus Michael Hawke was key in getting our product to market quickly by granting OtoSim the exclusive use of his otoscopy library photos.
We had help from MaRS Innovation incubating the company with special thanks to Dr. Andy Sinclair who was a VP at MaRS and is now our CEO at OtoSim Inc. MaRS Innovation CEO Raphael Hofstein and VP Joel Leiderman who saw the potential for a company to be formed around the initial product and helped create OtoSim Inc.
We were supported financially by the Women’s Auxillary (WA) to do our initial validation studies with a special thanks to Gill d’Auer. Gill, was the President of the WA and a retired nurse, saw the gap and the potential to improve child outcomes after seeing the first prototype; she got it! We worked with Carl Granger, Mario Ramirez and Rocki Yang in the Department of Medical Engineering at SickKids to develop our first prototypes. We continue to enjoy a great working relationship with them as well as with CIGITI at SickKids. We are also grateful to The Hospital for Sick Children, who now allow us to rent affordable space from them for the company headquarters as well.
What’s next for OtoSim?
Like many other new companies, we are still in the fragile start-up phase — even after nearly four years of operation. We’ve grown entirely on our sales profits and we’ve resisted investors who don’t share our strategic vision. Our strong and dedicated team continues to rapidly develop and release new products on a shoestring budget and to maintain our industry leadership position in the eye and ear simulation market. We hope to expand our portfolio to include other health care-related simulation and diagnostic products in very near future. We will continue to stay true to our roots