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According to research from Pew in 2013, 35% of all U.S. adults had gone gone online specifically to try to figure out what medical condition they or someone else might have. Given that that was 10 years ago, there's no doubt that those numbers are even higher now. Yet, despite, or maybe because of, the ubiquity of this information, it’s easy to come to the wrong conclusions when interpreting your own symptoms through a website.
It was that desire to solve the problem of what he calls "Dr. Google" that led Piotr Orzechowski to found Infermedica, a digital health company that uses artificial intelligence for symptom analysis and patient triage, which announced a $30 million Series B funding round led by One Peak Partners on Wednesday.
The idea for the company came all the way back in 2011, when Orzechowski was playing an online version of a 20-questions game with a medical doctor friend of his, and they became intrigued by the fact the game got smarter every time they played it.
"Seeing machine-learning technology applied in this way sparked an idea in us: to try to build our own version but, instead of asking questions about well-known people, the game would ask about medical symptoms for the player to identify the disease," he said.
"At the time it was a game, but in 2012, it turned into a vision and Infermedica was founded with the aim to develop our ‘game’ into the most accurate symptom checking tool online."
The company primarily works with health systems, health insurance and telemedicine companies, providing them with white-label technology that they can embed into their existing patient portals and mobile applications. For example, the largest hospital network in Germany uses Infermedica on their website to help patients choose the right service tailored to their potential health problems, and to assist their medical practitioners to triage their patients to the right level of care.
Infermedica's mission goes beyond simply helping people get their symptoms checked online, and getting them the right level of care, but to help them get care at all: the company estimates that by 2030, up to 5 billion people will be unable to access even basic healthcare, mainly due to provider shortages and burnout. Its technology can make primary care more accessible and affordable.
"There are several tasks where AI can be extremely useful given the vast shortage of physicians and increasing level of worker burnout, throughout the field. Infermedica develops a B2B platform for health systems, payers and providers that automates patient triage, the intake process, and follow-up after visit," Orzechowski told me.
"These modules sit on our AI core, which includes a reasoning engine, and one of the world's most advanced medical knowledge bases of diseases, symptoms, and risk factors that our expert physicians have already worked on for over 60,000 hours. This base is constantly growing, under stringent tests to match requirements for medical-grade technology."
One the company's partners is Diagnostikare, a virtual-first primary care platform in Mexico; by including Infermedica's symptom checker on their platform, the company was able to reduce their number of unnecessary visits, improve their quality of visits, and increase their platform's operational efficiency by 39%. Access to patient information also helped shorten the average visit time nearly in half, from 20 to 12.5 minutes.
"One of the key KPIs that we measure is how many unnecessary urgent care visits and appointments we were able to prevent. Working with one of our other partners, Medis, we’ve demonstrated that our call center triage process helped to reduce a number of emergency room visits almost by half, saving the precious time of doctors and patients, who can be treated outside of an emergency room," said Orzechowski.
Previous investors karma.vc, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Heal Capital, and Inovo Venture Partners also participated in the company’s funding round, which brings its total capital to $44 million.
The funding will go toward adding new modules and functionalities, including intake collection before visits and follow up after the visit, as well as international expansion, starting with the Middle East and Europe.
The funding will also be used to continue to grow Infermedica’s team, which already grew by 80% in 2021 to 180 specialists, including physicians, data scientists, and engineers; the company plans to add at least 40 new specialists in 2022. These doctors, Orzechowski made sure to explain to me, don’t treat patients directly, but instead they train Infermedica’s AI, and teach it how to identify diseases and to triage patients.
"I’m a huge believer that just like we’ll have self-driving cars in five to 10 years from now, there will be fully automated self-care bots available 24/7 to help us find solutions to low acuity health concerns, like a cold or UTI," he said.
"According to WHO, by 2030 we might see a shortage of almost 10 million doctors, nurses and midwives globally. Having certain constraints on how fast we can train healthcare professionals, our long-term plan assumes that AI will become a core element of every modern healthcare system by navigating patients and automating mundane tasks, saving the precious time of clinical staff, and supporting them with clinically accurate technology."
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