Matthew Burke, vice president of research and development of TeleMedic Systems in Charlotte, says he longed for a computerized telemedicine system while working as a volunteer with the Cary rescue squad in the late 1980s.

After graduating from North Carolina State University with a degree in computer science, Burke headed to Seattle in 1998 where he figured he could land a job with one its high tech companies. Just by chance, he passed Spacelabs Medical.

That “set bells ringing,” says Burke. “I thought Spacelabs, telemedicine, h’mmmm.” He did an Internet search for telemedicine and five companies showed up, including United Kingdom-based TeleMedic Systems.

TeleMedic evolved in 1995 from an invention by one of its founders Alstair McDonald, who had created a vital signs monitor that fit in a briefcase.

“I wound up having a root beer with another founder in Seattle,” says Burke. “They had lots of hardware but no software.” He volunteered to work for stock and experience.

The company then raised private capital in an undisclosed amount but enough for Burke to open the 1800 square foot Charlotte office as its first employee. Burke says the birth of his second child prompted the move back to North Carolina, where the couple would have family support.

The company launched the latest version of VitalLink in April 2001. It acquired U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance by September.

No medical training needed

Now, TeleMedic, headquartered in London, has 16 employees, including seven in the Charlotte office, and two in Auckland, New Zealand. The company markets the VitalLink 1200 for about $20,000, to luxury yachts, offshore oil rigs, airlines, and rural areas.

Burke says it’s easy to use and people without any medical training can operate the device. It measures a patient’s vital signs and transmits them wirelessly to a medical center where a doctor diagnoses the problem.

Burke says the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center hampered sales to cash strapped airlines, “but several major carriers are testing it and they’ve got the religion on telemedicine.”

The device is finding buyers on 150-foot luxury yachts, a rural program in Mississippi, offshore oil rigs and sexy niche markets such as round-the-world race teams.

VitalLink was on board the Virgin Challenger Around the World Balloon attempt, which crashed in the Pacific Ocean.

“We have the distinction of having a unit at the bottom of the Pacific ocean,” says Burke.

It is also used at the Mount Everest Base Camp for Emergency use during the climbing season.