AI symptom checking is reducing unnecessary health visits
06 July 2021
Artificial intelligence (AI) powered symptom checkers have undergone something of a renaissance over the past decade. Patients are often inclined to research their symptoms, sometimes before they even enquire about seeing a doctor. Instead of relying on so-called ‘Dr Google’ to determine the cause of their condition, AI symptom checkers can help give some impression of what might be wrong.
Infermedica, an AI-powered pre-diagnostics platform, develops tools for both patients and doctors. As well as its Symptom Checker app, designed to guide patients to timely and appropriate care, the company also offers Call Center Triage, and AI-driven software built to support call operators in making triage recommendations and Infermedica API, an application programming interface that allows users to build customised diagnostic solutions from scratch.
Piotr Orzechowski, the company’s founder and CEO, says he was inspired by Akinator, an online game popular in the 2010s, which attempts to guess a character the player is thinking of.
Orzechowski says: “I was playing it with one of my friends who is a medical doctor. We were really fascinated and asked ourselves, could we apply a similar Q&A concept to medical symptoms?
“The idea was to replace Dr Google with something more curated, developed by clinicians but also continuously improving over time. What we provide today is a series of apps, primarily for patients, for triaging your problems if you feel sick and you’re not sure where or when to seek medical attention.”
Infermedica recently released a new paediatric solution, which integrates with all of its existing AI tools, to deliver primary healthcare recommendations to patients of all ages. While the platforms previously focused on those aged 18 or over, they are now compatible even with newborn care.
Orzechowski says: “It took us almost three years. It was a huge challenge to build entirely new medical content, we had to hire a new team of medical doctors for clinical validation, but we were finally able to release the expansion of our symptom checker earlier this month. We now support over 200 diseases across different age groups, corresponding to over 90% of disease coverage according to statistical reports on what is most frequent.”
External physicians assessed the solution’s triage recommendations as safe in 96.7% of cases.
The solutions work from the caregiver’s perspective, meaning all questions are tailored for the parent or clinician using the software. It can also ask for information about the child’s parents, siblings or grandparents where necessary, as well as factoring in the exact date of birth as this may impact recommendations for very young children.
After all, questions are answered, the platforms will provide guidance on whether the child should see a physician immediately or whether their parent should administer self-care at home and see how the condition progresses. It also provides simple instructions for basic examinations a parent can perform at home to evaluate the state of their child’s health.
Users don’t need to log in to the platform or provide any personal information, making the platform more data secure than some comparable ones that require users to make an account.
Orzechowski says: “Many times, we’ll go and see a doctor when actually self-care is more appropriate. Infermedica increases the rate of self-care decisions because we calm people down. We say, ‘it’s not a brain tumour, it’s just a migraine’. Increasing the rate of self-care obviously creates savings whether it’s in a public or private healthcare system.
“Tools like Infermedica can increase the adoption of telemedicine. It’s not only about triaging and telling you to say home or see a doctor. The channel you choose is also important, and AI or in general algorithms like ours can classify and determine whether your symptoms are suitable for telemedicine or not. If you have an ear infection, you don’t have an otoscope at home.”
Tools for healthcare practitioners
As well as helping inform patient’s decisions to be treated at home whenever possible, Infermedica’s platforms have also been shown to reduce emergency room visits. The company has established a partnership with Médis, a large health insurer in Portugal, to implement the Call Center Triage tool in Médis’ Clinical Contact Center.
Comparing clients’ initial intention before calling the Médis Clinical Contact Center with the final recommendation informed by Infermedica’s tool indicated that the tool has unnecessary urgent care visits. While 17% of clients initially intended to seek urgent care, only 8% were recommended to do so, while 35% were given home self-care recommendations.
Infermedica is now developing a tool for use in everyday clinical practice.
This new platform will take the form of an intelligent survey with patients can carry out before they visit their general practitioner (GP). The platform is designed to give doctors a rundown on their patient’s symptoms and potential diagnoses before they even walk through the door – or sign into a telemedicine platform, as the case may be – and should help clinicians spend more time engaging with their patients, as well as generating more thorough medical records.
Orzechowski says: “Documenting the visit takes as much as 40% of the overall time that you spend with your GP. This new offering will talk to the patient before the visit and then present a very nicely summarised note to a doctor. We hope this will make doctors happier and they will save time on manual data entry.”
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