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The Breath of Life

Harjit Gill’s lifesaving technology disrupts a major industry and earns her the 2018 YPO Global Innovation Award

By the year 2020, respiratory disease will be the third largest killer in the world, affecting close to 3 billion people and costing the health care industry USD150 billion. The two largest culprits — asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — affect more than 600 million sufferers worldwide and are growing at an alarming rate. In the United States alone, 7 million emergency visits occur due to COPD exacerbation, with more than one-third of those patients being re-admitted within 30 days.

Despite these disquieting statistics, doctors have historically opposed devices which would allow patients to monitor themselves — a result of the industry’s conservatism and regulations. Add to that an aging population largely responsible for escalating insurance premiums, health care has become wildly unaffordable for large sections of the population. So, what to do if you suffer from a respiratory disease, can’t monitor yourself at home and can’t afford health care?

Well, previously, you continued to suffer. Since the 2016 launch of X-halo, a digital platform device co-created by YPO member Harjit Gill you can detect early onset of respiratory disease before symptoms appear. X-halo connects to the user’s smartphone and tracks their lung health by measuring breath temperature. Over time, the device’s smart learning algorithm can predict an attack and thwart potential hospitalization — the key point for most people with chronic asthma and COPD is escalation — if you know you’re in the trouble zone, you have the ability to manage it.

“The medical industry is ripe for disruption,” says Gill. “We have an aging population, a growing middle class, an increase in chronic disease and health care systems that are crippling economies in terms of costs. I believe that technology is the enabler for unlocking better and more effective health care delivery. New business models, telemedicine and population health management are all ways we can control costs, deliver better patient outcomes and take affordable health care to the masses.”

When personal turned proactive

Like many innovations, X-halo is the byproduct of a problem Gill felt desperate to solve. As parent to a child with chronic asthma, Gill, along with her husband Jaswinder Gill, began developing X-halo’s technology 10 years ago in an attempt to manage their son’s disease.

“We can still remember the harrowing time we had to rush him to the hospital because of an escalated attack,” Gill recalls. “Like most parents with a child with a chronic condition we are always looking for new ways to manage or cure him. One day, we read about a team of doctors in Sofia, Bulgaria, who were attempting to prove the correlation between inflammation in the lungs and increased breath temperature. The idea was novel, yet simple, and needed extensive clinical validation.”

Armed with a wide breath of knowledge from her 25 years with the Dutch multinational Philips — an innovation leader focused on health and technology — Gill decided to develop a device that could help researchers get the validation they needed. The results included two devices — one for clinical use and one for in-home use.

X-halo’s technology has since been validated in more than 10,000 patient studies, with upward of 200 peer-reviewed articles written by some of the world’s leading respiratory specialists. The products are currently sold in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, with the United States as their next target market.

The real rewards are inspiring, engaging and meaningful

When Gill considers her personal tenets of leadership, she mentions the importance of creating a product or service built on real consumer insights and clinical results, innovating through collaboration and co-creation, and building diverse teams with ownership of results who feel empowered to make decisions.

“This is especially important in the startup space,” she notes. “You have to surround yourself with people who believe wholeheartedly in your mission and are as resilient as possible. Constantly innovating will drive your growth and profitability and keep you ahead of the competition — we live in a world that is changing dramatically and quickly; staying agile is key.”

For this disruptive winner of the 2018 YPO Global Innovation Award, an honor Gill received during YPO Innovation Week, hope for X-halo’s future is twofold:

“On a micro level I hope that X-halo will help people with respiratory diseases live a better quality of life. On a macro scale, I hope X-halo and other technologies based on digital platforms will significantly alter the way health care is offered in the primary health care space.”

As for how she felt about winning the YPO Global Innovation Award?

“The award is a recognition of the work our entire team has done,” says Gill. “We have quite a journey ahead of us, so this is very motivating for us all. Real innovation has to be about solving the world’s bigger challenges. I truly believe that through collaboration and working together, we will be able to make a true impact. I feel privileged to be working in an industry where innovation can have such an impact – what could be more inspiring, engaging or meaningful?”

Deborah Stoll’s work as a journalist has been featured in The Economist’s online magazine, More Intelligent Life, in LA Weekly and its food blog, Squid Ink, as well as on the music site Buzzbands LA. Her short stories have appeared in the Los Angeles quarterly Slake and the literary website Fresh Yarn. As a musician, Stoll’s songs have been featured on American Idol, Glee and CSI: Miami, and her collective work as a content creator and animator has more than 1 million views on YouTube.