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The initial focus is improving access to therapy for autism spectrum disorder
While much of healthcare has gotten better in recent decades, like infant mortality and even conditions like cancer, we still haven't found a good way to help treat chronic conditions, such as Altzheimer's and dementia, or mental health challenges like autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or even chronic pain. These conditions are difficult and expensive to treat, and oftentimes it's families who wind up becoming caregivers.
"Increasingly what has happened was we are returning to the core of healthcare and caregiving with the family center. We've all taken care of each other in our family units for all of human history and that is still where the solution lies today, after all of these advancements. We did all these things, all these medicines, all these advances, but still the core that I saw was that it was within the family, within that core nucleus," Ritankar Das, co-founder and CEO of Forta, an AI healthcare company improving access to care for chronic conditions, told VatorNews.
"There's all this technology today that wasn't there 100 years ago, 200 years ago, 1,000 years ago, so how do we take these latest technologies and supercharge that family caregiving experience, in order to give people healthier and better and more fulfilling lives on one end, and do it at a cost effective and sustainable?"
Forta uses AI, including large language models (LLMs), to empower caregivers and improve clinical care and now it will be able to tackle more conditions as it announced its first funding, a $55 million Series A financing, on Wednesday. The round was led by Insight Partners, along with Exor Ventures, Alumni Ventures, and the founders of 23&Me, Curative, Forward, Flexport, Warby Parker, Prelude Fertility, Harry’s, and Allbirds.
The company uses a two-pronged approach to helping empower caregivers: first, it trains caregivers and helps them navigate all of the byzantine healthcare system; second, its AI system figures out the best course of therapy for a given individual based on their personal information.
Here's how it works: after signing up, the caregiver will be put through a 50 hour training course while, in parallel, the company will take the information from the patient's medical records, their medical history, and other places run it through its algorithm to come up with the best course of intervention for that individual while training the caregiver. After that, they get access to the Forta app, and they get supervision from Forta's clinicians, who are employed by the company, and who are trained as Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs); they help supervise the caregivers as they deliver therapy.
The personalization is an important part of what differentiates Forta, Ras explained.
"These chronic conditions can take on so many different variations. You can treat something like measles or something very universal, you get the same vaccines for everybody, same treatment lists, because it's a similar pathogen, similar immune response type thing. But when you get to these chronic conditions, there's so much complexity. What you might call as one condition, might be, in reality, a million conditions that are underlying and being diagnosed as one thing at the symptom level," he said.
"We're helping understand what is going to work best for that family member, on one hand, and we're using data to do it. We're looking at the medical records, looking at the patterns, looking at what has happened in the past, and using technology to figure out what is going to work best for you and your family, and then training you to be able to make the most of that insight."
The first area that that Forta is working in is ASD, helping families, most often parents, take care of their children. The reason the company chose to start here was partly personal, as Ras has a family member with ASD, but it was also an area where it is tremendously underserved: according to CDC estimates, one in 30 children are affected by this condition, and that might be an underestimate, with a very small fraction of those folks are receiving care today.
The company currently has tens of BCBAs on the supervision side, along with hundreds of families who have joined the platform.
In terms of outcomes, there are a few metrics that Forta looks at to determine success, one being goal attainment, where each child with AD has specific goals they want to hit for their development; with the Forta platform, children are hitting their goals more quickly and more consistent than traditional approaches.
The other metric the company look at is utilization; for a variety of reasons, less than half of the required hours of therapy are actually delivered on average. In addition, the average lifespan of a therapist is a few months, so you have turnover and then the child doesn't do well with the new person in their life. All of these things lead to a lack of continuity and, as a result, lead to less than half of the needed therapy being delivered. Forta, however, the company is able to achieve higher rates of utilization due to the fact that it train the family caregivers themselves to administer therapy.
"You get these dedicated family members who take over and it does better than the traditional system because, frankly, who’s going to care more about your child than you?" said Ras.
"That care coming in at the right time makes a complete difference in the lives of those children and their families. You won't believe the number of families that said that we have changed their life. That's the kind of thing you hear and it's very real to us."
With this new funding, Forta will expand its practice to provide AI-enabled applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy and develop its suite of clinical algorithms. In addition, Forta will also use the money to continue AI and LLM research to find breakthrough pathways that improve care outcomes and accessibility. It also plans to expand into new areas of care.
"The breakthroughs in LLMs over the past couple of years enables effective customization and training in more complex conditions where it wasn't possible before. So, we're looking at areas where you can do that that are chronic and long term in nature such as memory care, chronic pain. Any chronic disease that requires ongoing, repetitive support," Ras explained.
"We're also investing some of the capital towards giving a better experience and doing more for families who have a child with ASD. So, helping go do more for them. We're considering things like helping them get diagnosed and some other things that are not possible today."
The ultimate goal, he said, is to reimagine what a 21st century healthcare system looks like, comparing it to way that companies like Lyft and Uber reimagined transporation.
"This approach can get much larger than the confines of a brick and mortar, where you go somewhere, you probably have a terrible experience, they probably don't care about you, the kind of experience we've just come to expect to be terrible. It can be very different. We care about you, we want you to have a good experience," Ras said.
"We're trying to create an alternative for people. Everybody goes through the healthcare system at some point, most of us are going to end up with a chronic condition at one point or another. As medicine advances, as human lifespans extend, we want to be that much better experience for people."
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