At the end of a long day of seeing a rotating door of patients, cardiologist Shivdev Rao spent the last few hours of his day, often around 10 p.m., distilling his conversations with patients into notes. Rao, like doctors all over the world, uses a standardized format to take these notes, which helps justify procedures or costs to insurance companies on behalf of the patients.
But that process, which doctors often call “pajama time,” is contributing to a burnout problem among physicians and nurses.
“When you think about health care delivery, it’s really driven by unstructured notes, but those notes take so long to write,” Rao said.
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In 2018, Rao co-founded Abridge, a Pittsburgh-based medical conversation AI startup that announced on Thursday it raised $12.5 million in Series A-1 funding. That funding will be used to create notes out of in-person or telehealth conversations between providers and patients. The round was led by health care-focused Wittington Ventures, bringing total funding to $22.5 million, per Crunchbase data.
Conversational AI of this type uses machine learning to distill discussions between doctors and their patients. It may also help patients follow up on their care. They can refer back to their conversations and know when to take their medication, what kind of specialist to follow up with, or the lifestyle and diet changes they need to make going forward.
The AI is built around more than 1.5 million medical conversations and is already working with 2,000 clinicians and 200,000 patients. It can integrate with Zoom and other telehealth platforms as well.
Administrative technology is taking over
The small niche of conversational AI in the health care space saw roughly $60 million in venture funding in both 2020 and 2021, compared to a measly $15.5 million in 2019, per Crunchbase data. While $60 million isn’t a lot either, it’s symbolic of a seismic shift in the health care space to improve operational inefficiencies that cost health institutions time and money, and contribute to a ubiquitous burnout problem that has gotten worse since the pandemic.
Patient records are often scattered among a slew of primary care physicians and specialists, which patients don’t see, often leaving them blindsided about how to take care of themselves and reducing positive health care outcomes. This also makes it harder for hospitals and clinician groups to treat patients faster, or see more patients.
Note-taking is sometimes relegated to medical scribes, if doctors can afford them; one in five physicians employed a medical scribe in 2015. There have been proven benefits to this ability: because scribes did work otherwise given to doctors, doctors could see more patients a day, or spend more time with each patient.
“We think health care is about relationships between people and providers,” Rao said.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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