AI for all: Meet the Indian startups putting a doctor in every pocket

A blood oxygen checker that uses just your phone camera and flash? Companies are working on various innovations in healthcare using artificial intelligence, fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic

Harichandan Arakali
Published: Aug 4, 2021 11:49:07 AM IST
Updated: Aug 4, 2021 01:01:26 PM IST

AI can be used to learn the right protocols for achieving standardised care for different conditions
Illustration: Sameer Pawar

The Covid pandemic has made the need for home health checks urgent and boosted the demand for companies offering such services. A record $80.6 billion in equity funding was raised in more than 5,500 deals by health care startups in 2020, in North America, Asia, and Europe, said research company CB Insights in January.

AI can be used to learn the right protocols for achieving standardised care for different conditions, says Ajit Narayanan, CTO at Mfine, one of India’s most popular online health services company. Founded in 2017, Mfine lets users consult doctors online, order medicines and use an AI-based self-check feature for specific diseases. It is not a replacement for a doctor by any means, but a way to take more informed decisions.

 Although the use of AI has been around for some time, Narayanan says, in areas like medical imaging, Mfine is trying to bring AI into the consumer space. For over 1,000 conditions, it has a virtual doctor to gather information needed from a patient, and summarises them for a human doctor. The summary offers investigation details, pointers on the diagnosis and what possible treatment. The patients can’t see this, but doctors see it on their Mfine-for-doctors app. “Doctors benefit from the investigation done using AI,” Narayanan says.

For chronic conditions there is a lot of data available from tests etc. This can be digitalised for an AI program to read it, organise it, make inferences, and present them to a doctor. AI programs can also help people decide if in a particular scenario they should rush to the hospital rather than consult a doctor online, he says.

While Mfine offers self-checks for a few specific conditions, Ada Health, a startup in Berlin, Germany, offers an AI-based app that tries to diagnose symptoms. It recently raised $90 million from Samsung and Bayer.

A user enters the symptoms, and a chat bot will ask questions to try to determine the problem. Then the app will display the most likely causes and offer suggestions on what to do next. It gives generic advice such as seeing a doctor in the next three days, but when users interact with Ada Health through a health system that uses the app, they can book appointments and share their pre-assessment with a real doctor.

 Mfine is working on offering a more general health check feature that will focus on chronic conditions. It is also introducing tools that use a smartphone’s capabilities. For example, a blood oxygen level checker that just uses the phone’s camera and flash.
“We want to make health care accessible and this is how AI is playing a role,” says Narayanan.

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(This story appears in the 13 August, 2021 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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