Our Innovator of the Week is Jean-Louis Schmitlin, who was recently awarded the ‘2013 Innovator Prize’, one of the Digital Technology Awards presented by Télécom ParisTech at a ceremony in the French capital. Télécom ParisTech (the Paris-based École nationale supérieure des telecommunications) is one of France’s top computer technology universities. Schmitlin’s brainchild is a portable electrocardiograph used in the fast-growing field of telemedicine.

[Portrait of an Innovator] Jean-Louis Schmitlin is Betting on the Future of Telemedicine – and his Portable Electrocardiograph

An innovator ? Yes, and not just a run-of-the-mill innovator either, having been presented on 18 April with the Innovator Prize at the 2013 Digital Technology Awards ceremony. He obtained this recognition for an achievement which is far removed from his degree studies at the Institut d'études politique de Paris, better known as Sciences Po – one of the leading higher education establishments in France. “In the beginning I never even thought of getting into technology,” he explains.

Before setting up his own company, Parsys Telemedicine, Jean-Louis Schmitlin had already enjoyed quite an interesting career. After his studies at Sciences Po, he worked for four years with AFS, an international exchange organisation for students and adults, and this encouraged him to study for an MBA at leading French business school INSEAD. After earning his MBA he went to work for three years at McKinsey, and then for the following twenty years he worked as an IT systems manager before launching Parsys Telemedicine.

A disruptive idea ? The product is a portable electrocardiograph designed not only to make doctors’ lives easier but also to be used by people with no medical training. It was after a meeting with a group of engineers – who were the first to carry out a telemedicine trial in France – that he came up with the idea of working with them to launch his own project, for which he needed €5 million. Further down the line he and his team designed a complete range of equipment for sending vital signs for analysis to remote centres.

How did he get interested in telemedicine ? Having seen the phenomenal progress digital was making in the lives of French people, the Parsys founder felt that telemedicine had a bright future and that, given the changes taking place in this sector, great things were possible. “We cannot even begin to measure the digital linkage we have today,” he points out.

But although Parsys products are highly convenient, very few people can claim to have seen their doctor use this type of equipment during a consultation, or to have one at home. Schmitlin feels this is a great pity. But there are reasons for this state of affairs. “The State is financing trials in telemedicine, and so setting a framework, but it still refuses to reimburse the actual use of telemedicine.” So there is still quite some way to go, but he hopes that we will get there in the end because “this type of equipment could lead to amazing savings in the health sector.”

So how does this affect us ? Jean-Louis Schmitlin’s equipment is today being used in retirement homes through a partnership with ORPEA, a leading European group that manages retirement homes, where paramedics and doctors are often called in without good reason, incurring high costs; and also on ocean-going vessels and in some hospital emergency departments. Talks are currently going on with the Navy. In addition, this type of equipment is in great demand in Africa, where it is difficult to get from one place to another, because it enables nurses on the ground to transmit medical examination results to medical centres and obtain a diagnosis….rather like the medical imaging device that L'Atelier reported on recently.

What are the future prospects ? Parsys Telemedicine has already begun to sell its products in Vietnam, the United States, Saudi Arabia, China and Mexico. “In the coming three years, 70% of our sales will be outside France, although at the moment we’re looking mainly at the market here in France and our production is based here,” he explains.

Jean-Louis Schmitlin remains fairly optimistic, commenting: "If, as I think it will, the telemedicine market takes off, Parsys Telemedicine will become an international firm.” As far as the future is concerned, he sees himself staying on as head of the company because, “it is, after all, a fun business to be in,” he concludes with a smile.