This week we had the honor to interview Ismael Fernandez, CEO of ThermoHuman, a leading company in the thermography space, which helps teams reduce muscle injuries and quantify internal load.
📝 Show Notes: Through this interview, we touched on his background, his company, your product and how it benefits the teams. We also discussed his plans for the next 12 months.
🚀 Best Quotes: Here’s some of the key discussion points and best quotes from our conversation with Ismael:
On his background: “I am a sports scientist. I began ThermoHuman when I was doing my PhD. It all started for me and some other colleagues (Pedro Gomez, Manuel Sillero, Javier Arnaiz Lastras) in 2009 at the faculty of sports science at the technical university of Madrid where we discovered this technology. Basically we tested it and saw from the first day the potential that such a tool could have and how it could help visualize and quantify things using a camera that is measuring temperature in colors. And we saw how it could be related to overload due to potential injuries and so on. So it was something that we did as part of a research project for our master degree in sport science. And then we built a small research group from there. From this research group step by step, we created a spinoff inside the university. And for the first five years our main objective was just to build and create more evidence and more science”.
On how he ended up creating ThermoHuman: “Then myself, Pedro, Manuel, Javier and other colleagues, presented our PhD focused on using thermography with different research areas such as injury prevention and the training effect. And simultaneously we started building a software for it. Then we ended up created a company that was specialized in using such data, and analyzing body pictures of individuals (athletes, patients..) for professionals in the health or sports high performance space. We wanted them to use this technology in order to measure internal load, which is currently a very hot topic. Ultimately what we are doing is measuring temperature in order to understand how our body reacts to the different loads (..) We're focusing on helping teams better manage the players’ load and figuring out if something is going on from a temperature perspective. And then we can provide the right data and metrics to sports professionals and help them intervene early on to prevent injuries, support the diagnosis and support the return to play”.
On their focus on research and the fact that they not only serve sports but also healthcare organizations: “We have published 49 research papers to date, but wee keep on researching and publishing research papers. And in the last six, five years, we have been growing and working with different institutions which are mainly in the world of soccer. But we are also working with universities, hospitals, and clinics. And at the end of the day, any kind of institutions that might focus on injury prevention and follow up of injuries that's our target”.
On the fact that Thermography was initially mostly used to detect breast cancer: “Thermography has been used as diagnosis tool primarily for breast cancer, The main problem that we faced there was that this application for breast cancer diagnosis was used in the early sixties and seventies. And sadly because of a large amount of false positive, this technology was been ignored, or let's just say ripped apart. So the reputation of thermography in the field of human applications in medicine was quite damaged. So when we started in 2009/2010, what we discovered and noticed from the first moment was that most people were not familiar with the technology, and those that knew thermography had a very bad perception of such technology. So it was clear to us that we needed a lot of evidence and research in order to change that perception and to spread the word that thermography if used with a different approach, can actually be valuable. And we are still focusing on the research because this perception problem remains our main challenge today”.
On how ThermoHuman and Thermography works: “It's based on the analysis of temperature. So we built metrics based on mainly asymmetries. Theoretically our body should trend with a thermal balance based on the homeostasis principle. So based on that, your left shoulder or left knee should has more or less the same temperature as the right shoulder or knee. So with that in mind, before the athlete starts feeling some discomfort or some pain, we should see this imbalance of temperature. That's what’s incredible. Here we are talking about a few Celsius degree differences. So obviously there are a lot of temperature differences on the areas of the body. But we are essentially using thermography, and we are not just looking at the color changes, but we built specific metrics to do that. Then from the beginning, what we saw is in order to extract the metrics, you should analyze the image manually. That is something that you can do if you have one staff member dedicated to this task, but obviously if you want to analyze 25 players and you want to get the results as fast as possible, you need a software”.
On how teams can use ThermoHuman once a week and how such data can be combined with other metrics (GPS) to prevent injuries: “We built a software that helps sports professionals process all those images as fast as possible to get the metrics that might be relevant even before training starts, because the idea there is to analyze and screen the players at least once a week before training. Then we can get this information before training. And we can combine such data with other metrics such as GPS or other external load technologies. Ultimately we can check if there is something going on in the body of players. This might be relevant in order to adjust the training load, or even do any kind of interventions from a recovery perspective, treatment perspective and so on”.
On the types of leagues and teams they work with today: “So far we have been mainly focused on soccer. Funny enough, we are Spaniard, but it was very hard initially for us to get our first clients in LaLiga, the spanish soccer league. On the other end Brazil is by far the country where thermography is the most established from both a health and high performance standpoint. So today we work with Brazilian soccer teams like Fluminense. And since 2016, we have been working with pro teams in the US, and especially in the MLS such as the Inter Miami or Orlando City FC. We have also been working with the Houston Rockets in the NBA, and we are also working with some NFL teams (..) We have also been working with soccer teams in the Premier League, the Bundesliga, Italy (Calcio), and as I mentioned in earlier, in Spain (Laliga). We also work with Paris Saint-Germain in France. Today we are working with customers in 30 different countries and across 15 international leagues. But we also know that we are still at the beginning of our journey”.
On how their technology resulted into a 63-74% reduction in muscle injuries: “One of my colleagues who has a PhD published a paper in a scientific journal showing that our technology resulted into into a 70% injury reduction in muscle injuries. But it's not the only scientific result that we have. We have another report published with the Corinthians, which showed that with our technology this Brazilian soccer team saw a 63% reduction in muscle injuries and other teams in LaLiga and Portugal saw a 74% reduction in muscle injuries. Basically everything is based on the comparison of two different sessions. The first one without using thermography. And in the second session, we are adding to the same group of players a protocol of intervention based on thermography. So we have now enough evidence with soccer teams in Brazil, Spain, and Portugal. At the end of the day, our scientific reports have shown a significant reduction in muscle injuries between 63% and 74%”.
On the fact that their solution is adding objective data related to internal load: “With other metrics (GPS) measuring external loads, all those metrics are focusing on how I exercise, or how I run. But the point here is that it is hard to get objective data about how each individual are assimilating those external loads. So that is exactly where we are adding value, by providing fast and noninvasive data that we get from taking a picture of the body. This is what is really different here and so valuable to the teams. We are adding objective data related to the internal load, which is a main factor when trying to discover if there is a higher or lower risk of injuries with a player”.
On how ThermoHuman fits into the players’ workflow: “Teams can use ThermoHuman in a matter of seconds, which is a key factor. That's something that a lot of customers and collaborators tell us. The good thing about thermography is exactly that. We can take an image and it is a noninvasive way to extract metrics. Most of our clients or collaborators are taking pictures at least once a week. In the case of, for example, of a soccer team, they normally use our technology and take pictures when they are asking players to take their weight as part of their daily routine. So when the player gets to the training facility and they are weighing themselves on the scale, we are taking a picture. So it happens in a matter of 15, 30 seconds for each player, and then we are analyzing it automatically through the software in a matter of 30 seconds. I was recently talking to the staff member of a team who told me that he is analyzing 25 players in around 20 minutes before training using our technology”.
On the price to use ThermoHuman:”Regarding pricing, at the end of the day, we try to adapt ourself to every single customer. So as part of that, we are providing different pricing options. Teams can rent, pay a monthly fee or an annual fee to use our product. Just to give you an idea, the pricing can go anywhere from €10,000 a year, or €1000 per month, and up to €30,000 per year. The pricing varies because there are different variables that are affecting pricing, but for top institutions that's more or less the price”.
On their goal to continue to educate sports professionals about Thermography and become the goal standard to measure internal loads: “We are focusing on improving our technology and product because ultimately, as I mentioned earlier, our biggest challenge is to educate people about thermography. So for us, one very important milestone is just to keep on informing and publishing research papers about thermography. That way sports professionals will be more aware about it because we recognize, and we know that there is still a large number of sports professionals that are not familiar with this technology. DPS is now the gold standard to measure external load. So we really hope that thermography will become the new gold standard to measure internal load in the coming years”.
On their goal to continue to improve their technology : “Internally we are very focused on improving everything related to our technology in terms of automatization. That means making the data process and the data collection easier, faster, and in a more automated fashion. We are also focused on creating more evidence, and document more cases. Currently we are mainly focused on the metrics. Right now we are building an alarm system which can help sports professional to not only get the data, but get the correct interpretation of the data. Ultimately we understand the needs from high performance individuals of teams. What we want is continue to bring more awareness about such technologies while working on building a product that can interpret the data faster and more easily”.