Dental News - Engineer joins fight against oral cancer

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Engineer joins fight against oral cancer

The OralID Kit includes an OralID device, two pairs of filtered eyewear, batteries and patient brochures. (Photo: OralID)

Mon. 28 October 2013


“Our primary goal as a company is to help save lives,” is how Forward Science cofounder Robert Whitman describes his company’s mission. The biomedical engineer behind the company’s oral cancer screening device wants to play a role in marginalizing the illness, which has been described by many health care professionals as an “epidemic.”

“When we designed OralID,” Whitman said, “we went to the clinicians and asked what they wanted in a product. With that feedback, we designed a device around the user’s needs — portable, simple to use, no per-patient cost and under $1,000.”

Whitman recently answered a number of questions by Dental Tribune about his mission and the device.

Why should a dental practice be interested in your detection device?
Early discovery of oral cancer could be the difference in life or death. If found early, oral cancer has an 80–90 percent survival rate, but most oral cancers are found at late stages, giving patients less than a 50 percent survival rate. OralID enables a clinician to discover oral cancer, pre-cancer and other abnormal lesions at earlier stages, thus saving lives.

What makes OralID different than other early detection instruments?
OralID utilizes the same proven fluorescence technology that is the basis of other devices on the market. Our main goal for OralID was to answer the concerns we frequently heard from our clinicians about the other devices: ease of use and affordability. While designing OralID, we had three goals: 1) Easy to use; 2) Affordable initial cost; and 3) No ongoing costs.

With OralID, all of our goals were accomplished. Utilizing the same proven fluorescence technology, OralID is a user-friendly oral cancer screening device that is half the cost of other devices, with no per-patient costs.

Is it difficult to learn how to correctly read what fluorescence technology reveals?
Fluorescence technology has been utilized for decades now in other parts of the body, and is not difficult to use. Fluorescence technology provides another piece of data to assist the clinicians in their discovery and differential diagnosis protocol.

Abnormal cells do not fluoresce, as they appear darker than normal tissue. Clinicians are encouraged to participate in our team training session so that they can familiarize themselves with the technology and protocols.

What does your training cover? Many practitioners are fully confident in their ability to technically master the screening process, but might be less confident in their ability to effectively share their findings with individual patients. Do you help OralID users with that challenge?
We believe that every clinician deserves proper product training with every purchase. Our team training ensures that OralID is implemented properly and efficiently so it is utilized on every patient.

Our training covers a variety of topics including: cancer education, latest trends in oral cancer, OralID clinical use and clinical cases, revenue opportunity and how to market using OralID.

And we do cover how to talk to patients; rarely will a general dentist have to tell a patient they have cancer. Because OralID is not a diagnostic device, a specialist usually communicates the diagnosis once a biopsy is performed.

Dentists helped you design your product. Did they also help you design the training?
Yes, we designed our device from feedback from clinicians. Too many medical devices are designed by engineers without clinical feedback, making clinical implementation difficult. During the OralID design process, we went to our clinicians for their input and designed a device around what the clinicians wanted, not what we wanted.

We did the same for our team training. Knowing there are many concerns regarding oral cancer screening beyond just the product, we wanted to cover everything needed to make sure each OralID office is not only screening every patient, but is increasing the proper awareness needed to change these trends.

What type of reception are you seeing in the industry for the OralID device?
We now have hundreds of OralID users out there in just five months since the product's release. The response has been fantastic.

With the ease of use, low cost, our commitment to education and the dental profession becoming aware of an alternative to the existing adjunctive devices, we are excited about the future possibilities.

What do you envision widespread use of your product ultimately accomplishing?
Several decades ago, cervical cancer was the No. 1 cancer among women. Because of regular screenings, cervical cancer today is not even in the top ten cancers in women in the U.S. Just as the mortality rates of cervical cancer have declined in the past half-century, we foresee regular oral-cancer screenings with adjunctive technology achieving the same results.

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