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Otologic Technologies hopes bring artificial intelligence into the exam room –


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Otologic’s software, which is still in development, uses video of ear exams to create an enhanced image to compare to different ear problems, easing the diagnostic process for physicians.


The way doctors diagnose the causes of ear pains — such as infections or ruptured ear drums — hasn’t changed all that much in the last century. A Madison-based startup is looking to update that process using artificial intelligence.
Doctors still use otoscopes, which are essentially magnifying glasses with a light to see into a patient’s ear, but Otologic Technologies wants to use recordings from digital otoscopes to enhance images inside the ear and compare them to a database of known ear abnormalities to make the diagnostic process more accurate.
“We plan to have an impact on helping health care improve around ear diagnosis worldwide,” chief strategy officer Dan Wenger said.
With a good image, Otologic’s program can currently identify 14 abnormalities of the ear by running it through Otologic’s database of hundreds of images.
Having a database of images to help diagnose ear problems is important, Wenger said, because studies have shown that primary care physicians and pediatricians can misdiagnose ear problems as much as 50% of the time, according to research published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. That can lead to overprescribing courses of antibiotics or even unnecessary surgery for ear tubes in children.
Otologic also would help doctors capture a good look inside a patient’s ear. Health care providers upload a three- to five-second video of a patient’s ear exam to Otologic’s program, and the program searches the video for the best sections of still frames. Those sections are then stitched together to form a single image, which can then be brightened and enhanced by the software.

“It’s very difficult to get good lighting and very difficult to get good focus on all the areas,” Wenger said. “So by using this video, we can actually build a composite image.”
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Though the company was founded last year, the technology has been in development for several years longer, researched at Ohio State University by cofounders Dr. Aaron Moberly, an ear, nose and throat specialist, and Metin Gurcan, who specializes in clinical imaging.
“These two doctors collaborated and found that they could develop a system that diagnosed ear sample images with 85% accuracy,” Wagner said, significantly higher than the average for nonspecialists.
Ear infections are most common in young children, and doctors often prescribe antibiotics as a proactive measure when a child has the symptoms of a fever, crying and tugging on their ears, Wenger said. Health experts caution against the over prescription of antibiotics, but Wenger said doctors prescribe about 8 million unnecessary courses of antibiotics.
Otologic’s program could be used in telehealth settings as well, Wenger said, such as in remote parts of developing nations or in areas with restricted movement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses, telehealth aides and other providers could use a digital otoscope and get the enhanced composite image from Otologic, which can be sent to a primary care physician or specialist in short time.

Continuing development
The research and development, which is being funded with $450,000 from the National Institutes of Health, continues at Ohio State and partnering universities.
Going forward, Otologic will need to secure medical device approval from the Food and Drug Administration before the technology is brought to market. The company plans to apply for FDA approval late next year, Wenger said.
Though the research came from Ohio State, Otologic decided to move to the Madison area because of the wealth of experience for both mentors and potential employees, as well as a wealth of resources for startups in the state.
“This corridor between Milwaukee and Madison is a tech harbor,” CEO Darrin McCall said. “When you’re in the medical industry, there’s so much that comes out of here.”

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