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A call to arms! Healthcare heroes – the system needs your ideas



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Dr Claire Novorol is co-founder and Chief Medical Officer for Ada Health. Since launching in 2016, Ada’s mobile app has grown to be the number one health app in over 130 countries, and was the fastest growing medical app in Europe in 2017. Here she shares her thoughts on the tech revolution in healthcare, and why doctors need to lead the way

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The last ten years has seen a digital revolution across nearly every area of society, and healthcare is no different. After years of buzz and hype, digital health technologies – from mobile apps to wearable devices – are now entering the mainstream and, with tech giants like Google, Apple and Amazon stepping into the healthcare space, the rapid pace of innovation within the sector is set to accelerate further in the coming years.

However, it is important that we remember that driving innovation and change in healthcare is not as easy as in other industries. The health sector is unique in a number of ways and, if we are to truly make the most of this healthtech revolution, it will be vital that medical professionals are at the forefront of developing the next generation of healthcare technologies.

Making the switch from medicine to tech

Claire Novorol

Having made the transition from NHS doctor to the world of tech, I have seen first-hand the benefits that real-world medical experience can bring to a start-up’s leadership team. Before founding Ada, I worked as an NHS paediatrician and then as a Clinical Geneticist. As an NHS Doctor, I experienced both the complexities of healthcare and the daily challenges faced by doctors and patients.

While studying for a PhD in Neuroscience in Cambridge, I became involved in the local tech scene. I met lots of very smart tech and business people who, rightly, had identified healthcare as an area where digital technologies could make a big difference. However, the majority of startup founders I spoke to lacked the medical expertise needed to develop solutions that would work in the real world and I found myself providing advice on the medical aspects of their business ideas. These interactions inspired the idea for Doctorpreneurs, a global community for medical professionals who are interested in business and tech, which I helped to found with the intention of aiding tech startups find the medical expertise they needed and encouraging more doctors to get involved in founding or joining health tech companies.

The birth of a app

It was when I was giving a talk on medical entrepreneurship in Berlin, as part of my work for Doctorpreneurs, that I met my Ada co-founders, Daniel Nathrath and Martin Hirsch. They were working on a new ‘intelligent’ reasoning system to support diagnosis. This was several years before the surge in interest in Artificial Intelligence, so the concept was ahead of its time in many ways. Daniel was an experienced business leader and entrepreneur, and Martin was a leading mind in cognitive science, having founded several previous companies in that space. However, to really get their idea off the ground, they knew they needed someone with real-world medical experience.

Together, we founded Ada, and built an AI-powered platform designed specifically for healthcare. My experience as a doctor was crucial to informing how Ada should work and what it would look like. Daniel and Martin had originally envisioned a tool for doctors that would use the power of AI to help them reach the right diagnosis. However, from working in the NHS, I had learned that doctors would benefit the most if they were supported even earlier in the patient’s health journey. The tool would have to be integrated seamlessly into doctors’ working lives. Ideally, as much information as possible would be collected directly from the patient and available in advance of the consultation. The three of us explored what this would look like and Ada quickly evolved into a pre-assessment tool, designed to collect information from patients in advance of consultations, and then a consumer-facing mobile app.

Combining tech and medical expertise to benefit patients and doctors

Because Ada was first designed as a tool for medical professionals, accuracy and usability have always been paramount. Our team of 100 doctors, scientists and engineers spent six years perfecting our AI technology and probabilistic reasoning, combining this with a world-class knowledge base of medical cases to deliver the most sophisticated diagnostic assessments on the market.

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Putting this technology into the hands of patients, in the form of a mobile app, can bring huge advantages. Patients can use our app as a personal guide for their long-term healthcare needs, building their own medical profiles which can be shared with their GPs, and for their short-term medical needs, undergoing quick and easy-to-understand symptom assessments when something is bothering them. As such, patients are able to take control of their own health, as well as that of family members, accessing high quality medical information without needing to wait for a GP appointment.

This also has huge potential benefits for doctors and health systems, which are under growing pressure due to aging populations, the increase in chronic conditions and ongoing resourcing issues.

According to a recent survey carried out by Pulse, GPs in the UK are facing increasingly challenging workloads, with one in five family doctors seeing 50 patients a day, and some as many as 70.

AI tools can help alleviate some of this pressure by automating time-consuming tasks, such as taking patient histories, while also aiding the diagnostic process by quickly sifting through large datasets to identify symptom patterns and possible underlying causes.

AI will never replace the role of the GP. But, it will become an increasingly powerful tool to support them in delivering high quality care more efficiently and effectively. Furthermore, by freeing up doctors’ time, it will enable them to spend their time where it makes the most difference – patient care and disease prevention.

Doctors must lead the healthtech revolution

The benefits that AI can bring to healthcare are invaluable – and this is just one of a number of incredibly exciting innovations within the healthtech space. However, the benefits of these innovations will only be fully realised for patients if doctors play a leading role in shaping and deploying the next generation of health technologies. I would therefore strongly encourage any doctor or medical professional who’s currently considering getting involved in the healthtech scene to go for it. Since founding Ada, I have learnt a huge amount about both business and medicine and it has given me the opportunity to follow my passion for innovation and creativity, while also making a real difference to the lives of patients and doctors.

About the author

Journalist and editor Kathryn Reilly has worked in consumer, contract and medical writing for more than 20 years.

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