It is six years since three entrepreneurial friends in Perth – including a surgeon – put their heads together to find innovations that could save the health system time and money.

Consultant general surgeon Dr Ming Khoon Yew, research scientist Melanie White and bioengineer Dr Alex Hayes set about using ‘design thinking’ to shake out problems and find novel solutions.

The first development of their med-tech start-up company, Inova Medical, is an easier and cheaper way to manage skin abscesses using a sterile, single-use device that allows medical professionals to penetrate and drain abscesses easily and safely.

Skin abscesses affect thousands of people every year in Australia and while some are easily treatable, others can lead to severe conditions such as sepsis, infective endocarditis, osteomyelitis, necrotising fasciitis and septic arthritis.

Hospital costs alone in WA to treat the condition are more than $5 million a year, and patients who have to wait days for treatment risk developing potentially dangerous complications.

Ms White says the team recognised that skin abscess treatment had been static and often involved a multi-day stay in hospital, general anaesthetic and surgery.

Their brainchild device, known as Abcease, can be used under a local anaesthetic, so patients are out of hospital more quickly and there is less strain and cost on the health system. The device is also an alternative treatment for elderly patients and others who cannot have a general anaesthetic.

“In a big state like WA, the treatment of abscesses can mean a great deal of disruption for patients who need to travel long distances to access care,” Ms White told Medical Forum. “We thought that there had to be a better way. 

“The kit aims to make it possible to treat deep or complex skin abscesses in an ambulatory setting using local anaesthetic. It will potentially be used in emergency departments, radiology, or on the wards.”

In the long term, the Inova Medical team are looking to problem-solve in other areas where they see gaps in the system.

“The Abcease kit is our first product, and in the long run we aim to seek out and address a range of unmet clinical needs,” she said.