Throughout the show’s history, we’ve done interviews with medical professionals and those pursuing innovations in the medical field. This week’s guest created a breakthrough product used during this global pandemic. Clive Smith, the CEO and founder of Thinklabs joins us on the show. We will discuss a medical innovation and what he’s doing to disrupt the field.
Clive grew up in South Africa. Greatly influenced by the moon landing as a kid, which showed that technology happens in the United States, he knew where he needed to be. Clive studied for his masters at the California Institute of Technology and focused on analog electronics and signal processing. After finishing school, he worked in the corporate world for a few years but realized that was not what he wanted to do. While he didn’t stay there, he is grateful for what he was able to learn.
After leaving corporate America, Clive started Thinklabs. The context was that it would be an incubator for Clive’s and other people’s ideas. He had a long-term interest in medical devices, and while at his undergrad in South Africa, he developed an electrocardiographic device with a friend. On top of that, many of Clive’s friends from school went on to become doctors. Clive’s brother was also a cardiologist, so being surrounded by the medical professionals boosted Clive’s interest.
Stethoscope Medical Innovation
Clive stumbled across an article in a cardiology journal about the stethoscope. The journal people measured the acoustics on stethoscopes and studied the original stethoscope made by Rene Laennec. They realized that the acoustics of the original was almost the same as the modern stethoscope. The device hadn’t had a performance improvement for nearly 180 years.
Clive decided that he was going to fix the issue and started prototyping in his garage. He came up with a unique sensor for the stethoscope. After talking with cardiologists and comparing his medical innovations to others, Clive started talking with HP medical. They ended up funding his product, but while they were funding it, another company bought the healthcare division.
Due to Clive’s contract, he could leave and put all the technology out on the market himself. The first version of the stethoscope came to the market in 2003 and manufactured in China. In 2013, the production of the product moved from China to the U.S.
Manufacturing and Product Use
Clive made himself more vertically integrated when he moved from offshore manufacturing to onshore. He did this because he wanted to be able to innovate quickly. Outside manufacturers like the ones in China want to crank out a product efficiently and keep things moving. It’s not that easy to make changes with all of that. Another part of it was 3D printing. 3D printing offers flexibility because it is mostly software.
Moving onshore wasn’t mainly for the cost nor “for American manufacturing”. Many of the suppliers in the U.S had a hard time making high-quality products that Clive wanted. He ended up with a global supply chain as he does assembly in the U.S but gets some components from Japan, China, etc.
With regards to Clive’s digital stethoscope, some physicians are particularly interested in listening to sounds. Many people still use conventional stethoscopes, and if they hear something that sounds weird, they pass it on to a specialist. Users of the digital stethoscope use it to get a more thorough read upfront. On top of that, regular stethoscopes are known to carry diseases and pathogens and not useful in infectious situations.
Called on to help doctors in 2014, Clive and his team listened to patients remotely when they were in isolation during the Ebola outbreak. Fast forward to COVID, and they were able to create a process that uses remote Bluetooth transmitters and headphones to listen to patients in isolation.
The future is going to include a lot of remote healthcare. It is an incredible enhancement to the quality of life, especially for older people. Clive says the hospital at home is going to continue to grow. The internationalization of healthcare will be a massive change as we advance with borders broke down.
In the past, Mayo Clinic ran into problems as doctors licensed in Minnesota weren’t able to practice healthcare in different states. Due to COVID, many states have gotten rid of that requirement, which will significantly impact healthcare and policymakers. Government rules and regulations need to find ways to keep up with the fast-growing innovations of this day and age. Policy always follows technology.
If you want to keep up to date with Clive and what he is doing at Thinklabs, check out their website here.
About Our Guest: Clive Smith
Clive Smith founded Thinklabs in 1991, a company developing electronic products and systems. He released the first Thinklabs stethoscope in 2003 and held numerous patents in the stethoscope technology field. He was profiled in the annual 2013 Caltech Alumni ENGenious publication. Raised in Johannesburg, Clive spent his early life in South Africa.
He received a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from Wits University, where he first developed his interest in medical electronics. He and classmate David Cohen received the Siemens Prize for Best Thesis for their research on multi-channel electrocardiography. Smith came to the United States for graduate study, receiving an MSEE from the California Institute of Technology, focusing on various electronics design disciplines including analog, integrated circuits, digital signal processing, and power electronics.
To know more about Clive Smith's digital stethoscope and other medical innovations listen to this week's show: Medical Innovations Amidst a Global Pandemic.