Brainworks launches Medio, using AI to measure vital signs related to COVID

Steven Loeb · August 5, 2020 · Short URL:

Medio uses smartphone and tablet cameras to detect heart rate, respiration and changes in skin tone

It's hard to believe that it's now August and not only is the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, passing 150,000 American deaths last week, but testing is still no where near where it should be, meaning we have to prioritize those who likely have the disease?

Part of the problem is, how would someone even know if they should be tests? While a number of technology companies have stepped up to the plate, launching services that help people determine if they might have it, and where to go tested if they do, these still mostly rely on people answering predetermined questions, and not on any specific vital signs.

That's why Brainworks, a provider of AI-enhanced digital healthcare tools, announced the launch of Medio Smart Health on Wednesday, which uses artificial intelligence to track COVID-19 symptoms. With Medio, people can use their own device camera, including on their phones, computers, and tablets, to automatically measure and track their vital signs, such as heart rate, respiration rate, changes in skin tone related to blood oxygenation.

In an interview, Dr. Phillip Alvelda, the company's CEO and Chairman, described Medio as being "kind of like a supercomputer in the sky that analyzes your health."

"It does it using the latest AI techniques to automate the whole process. The parts that are really interesting are almost about sensory enhancement. So, how can we use the camera on the phone or the computer to automatically figure out what your heart rate and your breathing and your pulse oximetry is?" he said.

To use Medio, users don't even have to download an app, they can use it right from the website, and then they just start answering the questions such as: How are you feeling? Are you coughing? Do you feel nauseous? While they are answering the questions, the system is also measuring their vital signs and recording them. And so, once they finish the check in, it gives the user a score of how healthy they are, based on the answers they given and what the AI has detected from their vital signs.

There are three scores: green, yellow, and red. A green score means the person is fine and there's no need for further steps. A yellow score means there is some concern, and Medio will recommend that they get tested. A red score means there's a high risk of COVID, and the app will then then we direct that person to go and get immediate medical attention at an emergency room or urgent care clinic nearby. 

Right now, the app doesn't provide information about where to go if a person is determined to likely have COVID, though that will be coming in the future. 

"What the software does at this time is it tells you whether or not you need more care. It doesn't tell you whether you have COVID or not, but it gives you a measurement of the risk and whether you need testing, or whether you have some symptoms or other concerns, which would warrant hospitalization. And so that turns out is the critical issue. Do I need to go get tested? Am I fine? Should I keep checking in? And so you can think of the tool as something that's set up to help them navigate, how do you stay healthy in this COVID era?" said Alvelda.

The origin of Medio

The idea for Brainworks came after Alvelda left his previous job where he had been recruited by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is the government agency that funded the creation of computers and the Internet and stealth technology, among other things.

"I was recruited there specifically to create the brain machine interface industry. And so they gave me a big budget, about $175 million bucks, to kind of create the industry where we could connect electronics and photonics directly to the human brain, so you could control things with your thoughts and you know cure blindness and deafness and a whole bunch of other things," Alvelda explained. 

"I left the agency having created these programs that would allow us to connect electronics and photonics to the brain and see what it was doing for the first time at massive scale. I left with these new learnings on how we could create a next generation of AI systems that would think much more like people do, and could solve much more complicated problems."

Brainworks was started specifically to take these new AI technologies, based on the real neuroanatomy of how real brains work, and build industry changing systems. And the first industry that the company planned to launch these technologies was in healthcare. 

The original idea for Medio was not to detect COVID or infectious disease; instead, the company had begun developing an AI tool to detect heart health. The company was even working with hospital systems, such as MedStar and Johns Hopkins, to help detect whether or not someone was going to go into cardiac arrest before it happened. Then COVID hit and changed the company's direction.

"We were in the midst of our field validations trials at a couple of hospital groups when the COVID crisis hit and then, of course, the whole world turned upside down. All the hospitals said, ‘Oh my god, we need to turn ourselves to war footing against the virus.’ That was late February or early March, when it became kind of unavoidable to everyone. And we decided that we had really the perfect technologies needed to address the problem of shifting away from centralized, optimal care. Because the world changed rather drastically," said Alvelda.

The timing was somewhat fortuitous, he told me, as the company was in the middle of developing technology that could be used in just such an emergency, even if that was not their initial focus. The company had already developed a telemedicine product and was able to simply shift the focus of that onto COVID specific issues. 

"We had aspirations and we've got a long product development roadmap with all of these analytical features that we plan to build in over time, diagnostics and predictive analytics and treatment planning and so on. But we realized that we had to shift the priorities to support the COVID situation," Alvelda said, which involved adding a blood oxygenation feature, along with its COVID questionnaires, which as guided by the CDC screening questions process.

While Medio's COVID service is now heading into beta testing, the company had been able to test some of the technology's other use cases, and the company has found it gets accuracies in 3 to 5 percent of gold standard clinical tests.

"For this kind of an application, the FDA generally requires about 10 percent accuracy, so we're well within the threshold of what's necessary for a clinical diagnosis," said Alvelda. 

Making care more accessible 

While Medio might be focused on COVID at the moment, the disease won't be top priority forever; its other products and use cases are still very much in the pipeline, including the original use case of building a system to make heart health and pulmonary health preventive, instead of reactive.

"You can say we got distracted and diverted by COVID because of national need. But you know the original plan is still on the table, once we clear the main body of the crisis," said Alvelda.

"Our vision is any device that you sit down and use, whether it's your computer at work, your grandma's smart TV in the living room, is not just giving you television but is also checking on heart health. So, the idea is, get warning of the impending heart attacks before it happens and not deal with it after you’re in the ambulance."

Other potential use cases include dialysis management and drug management. For example, if someone had ADHD, the inability to focus their eyes might tell Medio that they aren't on the right amount of medication, or if someone has Parkinson's tremors, those can also be measured using the technology. 

Ultimately, though, the goal for Brainworks is to develop products like Medio in order to make care more accessible and, as a result, more affordable. 

"Our fundamental goal is to automate things that are expensive and because of that, inaccessible to too many people. Practically speaking, people don't access it because it's inconvenient. And so, anything that can automate and drive down the cost of these services so that more people get it before we have a crisis, that's really our fundamental goal. Our vision is that the more of that to come, the lower than medical costs go and the more people that have access to them. And the better health people can maintain."

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