The creator of Pregnabit – a tele-CTG (cardiotocographic) mobile device which enables expectant parents to track the health of the foetus during pregnancy – was named Innovator of the Year 2016 at the Polish MIT Technology Review Innovators Under 35 Awards ceremony, which took place in Warsaw on 28 June.

[Portrait of an Innovator] Patrycja Wizińska-Socha is working to improve pregnancy care via tele-health

An innovator?

As is so often the case with innovators who decide to embark on a medical venture, Patrycja Wizińska-Socha’s idea arose from a very personal experience. She explains: “Six years ago, I witnessed a tragic event when my pregnant neighbour lost her baby a few days before it was due. This changed my life. I found out that this problem was more common than I had imagined, and so I thought that it was important to do something about it.
Patrycja, who holds a Master of Engineering degree in biotechnology from Wroclaw University of Technology and a PhD from Wroclaw Medical University, had already demonstrated her caring nature before this tragedy. She reveals: “I chose to do a PhD because I felt I could be part of the fight against cancer.” Then, in 2010, she began to work on the product that would eventually become Pregnabit. The idea is very simple: make tele-health solutions more accessible to pregnant women, especially during the last three months of their pregnancy.

The innovation?

The innovative solution comes in a small violet-coloured bag: it is an electronic device connected to three sensors: one to take the mother’s pulse, one to differentiate and measure the heartbeat of the baby, and the third to track the mother’s uterine contractions. Doctors and midwives give the equipment to the future parents, so that they can do a cardiotocographic test on the foetus themselves at home in just 30 minutes. The results are then sent directly to a team of doctors available 24/7, so the parents receive a response from the team within 15 minutes of taking the test and if any anomaly is detected it can be followed up much faster.
Six years after she came up with her great idea, Patrycja Wizińska-Socha’s Nestmedic team currently numbers some ten people, who have very different skillsets. She underlines: “Pregnabit is a complex solution, so it’s very important to have people with different skills – information and communication technology, electronics, medicine, sales and marketing, etc.

You can really sense that it’s also very important to her on a personal level. She claims to be ‘obsessive about learning’, revealing: “In the beginning I didn’t know anything about topics such as marketing, and I want to learn all these new things." When she received the accolade as Innovator of the Year on stage at the Warsaw Spire complex, she first of all thanked the Nestmedic team, which she says has taught her so much, stressing: “There can be no success without an excellent team. I believe I have one. Without them I wouldn’t be here. All of us are determined to do something meaningful in life.” Patrycja Wizińska-Socha now hopes that her title of Innovator of the Year will open new doors, especially abroad.

What impact is her invention having?

When you ask her what her biggest challenges are, she cites people’s mentality as being the main one: “Many people are unaware that tele-health solutions are useful and safe. I hope that my award will help change this mentality, including among medical teams. Tele-health is a solution that healthcare professionals can use to improve the treatment they give their patients. We want to work with them, we’re not planning to replace them!” Despite her modest manner, you can see how determined and ambitious she is. She states clearly: “Our mission is to bring every pregnancy successfully to term. I sincerely believe that we can do it. We want to improve medical care for pregnant women worldwide, including in places when up to now no treatment of this kind has been available”. Pregnabit, which is due to go on sale during the course of the year, is gearing up to conquer the world.

The next step?

She would also be delighted if the visibility her award has generated were to encourage the Polish government to change the legislative framework, which is still too restrictive for her innovation to flourish in Poland. Meanwhile, like many startup entrepreneurs, Patrycja is looking for investors and collaborators, and she is certainly hoping that the Innovators Under 35 community will help her find the right people to distribute Pregnabit worldwide.

By Philothée Gaymard