Using DFree, an ultrasound sensor connects with a transmitter to notify a user’s smartphone app that his or her bladder has reached a pre-determined threshold and should be voided.
Ask any provider that addresses urinary incontinence about this patient group, and they’ll tell you the market is huge, but it’s difficult to serve because people with incontinence are embarrassed and feel stigmatized by their condition. Moreover, the majority of the product solutions available to them are pads and diapers, which can make them feel even more self-conscious. Suffice it to say, they’d rather not talk about it.
That’s a shame, because the population of people with incontinence is sizable. Globally, urinary incontinence impacts 200 million people, and In the United States, 25 million adult Americans suffer from some form of urinary incontinence, according to statistics from the National Association for Incontinence.
But with the solutions being either diapers and pads or more serious solutions, such as surgery, implants, electrical stimulation and medications, it’s no wonder many patients stay mum. But what if there were a solution that could help them monitor and manage their condition.
Enter the DFree, a device that focuses on the urge management side of incontinence. It’s a device that acts as a sot of early warning system that employs ultrasound and Bluetooth to help patients realize that their bladder might need emptying, says Ty Takayanagi, vice president of marketing and business development for DFree’s manufacturer, Triple W.
“We felt that there was a need for a product to support or help people with incontinence,” Takayanagi says.
The DFree system uses a small ultrasound device a little bigger than a quarter, which is secured to the patient’s lower abdomen using medical tape. A transmitter that measures roughly three inches in diameter is connected to the sensor is hooked to the patient’s belt or clothes, and it sends information to the user’s phone using Bluetooth.
“It really is a simple and robust technology,” Takayanagi explains. “When your bladder is full, you get a text notification on your phone, alerting you to go to the bathroom. So, the product prevents accidents from happening, and instead of relying on diapers, you’ll want to try to minimize the accident beforehand. … And what I like about it, it’s non-invasive and it’s 100 percent safe.”
Moreover, since the sensor and transmitter are hidden under clothes, the user doesn’t feel any stigma when managing his or her incontinence.
“Once you attach the sensor to your clothes or your body, it kind of disappears,” Takayanagi says. “So it’s very discreet. If All you need to do is check your phone and it’ll tell you, for example, how full your bladder is.”
Where that reading is concerned, as patients accumulate urine in their bladder, it expands in size. The sensor is essentially measuring the size of the bladder and converting that into a numeric value between zero and 10, with 10 being full and zero being empty. Then the user can set pre-defined thresholds on the DFree phone app to notify them when they should attempt to empty their bladder.
“You can set the threshold for notification at any point; say at 60 percent, 70 percent — it really varies by person,” Takayanagi explains. “It really varies by the age and how flexible your bladder is.”
The DFree sensor and transmitter combo run on a rechargeable DLE battery last 24 hours on a single charge. This takes roughly three to four hours to fully charge. So if users plug it in before they go to bed, they should be all set in the morning.”
The device was an immediate hit with senior care facilities, since toileting care for seniors takes up to 30 percent to 40 percent of their staff’s time. Plus they are not buying diapers and pads and replacing bed linens. Typically, the facilities will trial the device, start monitoring multiple patients on a single app (the professional version of the DFree offers that capability), realize the time savings and invest in using it throughout the facility. So far, the DFree has used in over 500 senior care facilities in Europe and Japan since 2017.
And now that DFree is in the U.S. market — it’s formally debuted here in September 2018 — Triple W is making the product available to HME providers, and it’s doing so in an interesting way.
“One of the things that we’re doing that I would say is a little unique, is we’re offering our product on consignment,” Takayanagi says. “And the reason why we’re doing that is we’re new to the market and it’s understandable that HME retailers are skeptical whether this product is going to work or not.
“So what we’re offering is a free display unit with a display kit,” he continues. “The only thing we ask of the retailers is to display our product in their stores. When a customer places an order or wants one, the store can call us and we’ll drop ship it directly to the customers. So there’s absolutely no risk for the retailers to sort our product.”
Triple W set an MSRP of $499.99 for the DFree with a strict MAP policy, and while it is not covered by insurance, it does qualify for flexible spending accounts. In addition to purchasing a DFree device, Triple W offers a rent-to-own option at $40 a month. At the end of the day, that’s a price a lot of people with incontinence will likely be willing to pay if it helps them regain their sense of independence and self-assurance.
“One of the things we strive for is helping people regain confidence and dignity,” Takayanagi says. “Because the first time you have an accident — we’ve seen this over and over again — that people lose confidence. They stop going out. They stop drinking water, in some extreme cases. So hopefully, our device will have them regain their active lifestyle. That’s what we aim for.”