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Your AI Doctor Will See You Now

Posted: 19 January 2017 | By Darcie Thompson-Fields

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Mario Alemi, Chief Data Officer at Your.MD

20 million. That was the number of results displayed when typing “symptom checker,” into Google when I started this article. By the time I’d finished, that number was north of 23 million.

The slightest sniffle, an unusual rash, an aching body part. Increasingly and against our better judgement, we turn not to our GP, but to “Dr Web” where you can always be seen and no appointments are necessary

In theory, it sounds great. But how do you really know these so-called doctors handing out free advice to complete strangers are actually medically qualified to do so and not just some bored Grey’s Anatomy fan sitting in their bedroom.

Trust me, I’m a doctor 

Trying to help separate the fact from the fiction is Your.MD – a British based Norwegian app company which has built, what it describes as ‘the world’s first Artificial Intelligence personal health assistant.’

“Turning to Google is the worst possible place to try and diagnose yourself,” the firm’s chief data officer Mario Alemi (pictured right) told Access AI during a recent event in London.  “The information is not regulated and may not be correct. The advice could be harmful both physically and potentially mentally. We are providing a qualified and more accurate and trusted alternative.”

Cash injection 

The business has certainly had a healthy response to the market. To date, the firm has received more than $7.3 million in funding from private investors. The app, which is free via iOS and Android, has received more than a million downloads in the first year – a figure it hopes it will repeat, if not exceed by the end of 2017.

 “Turning to Google is the worst possible place to try and diagnose yourself”

At present the app has a 4.2/5 rating through Google Play with almost 8,000 reviews, 4,720 giving it maximum marks. On ITunes the current rating was 5/5 although just over 90 reviews have been given.

“We are ambitious and we believe in what we are doing,” said Alemi, a self-proclaimed AI specialist.  We value our feedback and are always trying improve our performance.”

What seems to be the problem?

The biggest selling point of the app however, and something Alemi is most keen to discuss, is the level of accuracy it provides and how.

He claims the symptom checking process is up to 80 per cent accurate when giving its prognosis – something he suspects many of its so called rivals are unlikely to match.

“Our artificial doctor is not as good as a doctor but he asks smart questions. It may not get it 100pc correct, but it will be in the right region. There are thousands of answers that can be given, but the possible path’s to reach them is potentially infinite,” said Alemi.

So how does Your.MD work? The key behind the technology is through a mix of machine and human input.

At the back end, Your.MD has built what it describes as a “digital brain,” which is crammed with reliable and trusted medical information obtained through an official partnership with the National Health Service (NHS).

“Our artificial doctor is not as good as a doctor but he asks smart questions”

Alemi explained that from the first moment the app is downloaded, a unique “master graph” is being created on the individual – taking into account their age, sex, location.

Other questions such as whether they take drugs or smoke also play a part depending on what it is they’re experiencing.

“Location is very important. If the person is complaining about a cough, then living in a city like London for example could be a factor and is taken into consideration.

“It’s vital to know, that we are not trying to be a doctor. We have built an artificial brain which gets information from the doctors. A nurse is not a doctor and an artificial nurse is even less than a doctor. We do primary care.”

 

 

Talking sense 

Using the app is a comparable experience to that of a typical chat room, or using a messenger service.

Your.MD uses a (very polite) digital agent, which asks the user a series of questions in real time in an attempt to find a prognosis. Alemi compared this process to that of a nurse at a doctors surgery.

Once completed, a prognosis is then suggested with links to the NHS website providing detailed information on what it could be, how to treat it and whether or not you need to see a doctor.

However, the app is not simply a symptom “elimination tree,” insists Alemi – noting such techniques have existed for decades.

Collaboration

Where Your.MD is different, is that it employs four general practitioners (GPs) who each provide their own input into the symptom checking process.

Their input, and their own personal experiences, boosts the level of accuracy in determining what’s wrong.

“I want a doctor to tell us the answer to something,” said Alemi. “We have 600 plus conditions and thousands of symptoms, I need a doctor to tell me what he or she thinks. A doctor is far better than any statistics.

“So instead of simply going for a correlation relationship, we use a much harder cause model.  Rather than using a basic elimination tree, we ask our doctors what is the probability of something. It might be; what is the probability of pneumonia causing a cough? The doctor says in his experience, that a cough is present 100pc of the time with pneumonia, so we add that input to the master graph.

“Essentially we are building a cause network and extracting information from a doctor’s brain and putting it into something we can scale.”

“We now have users all over the world”

He added the app is also providing extremely popular around the world, particularly in developing countries where access to primary care can prove costly, if available at all.

“We now have users all over the world, with many using it in developing countries. These are places where access to medical advice is nothing compared to somewhere like the UK. It can be hugely beneficial.”

Financial model

Of course, Your.MD was not set up as a charity and whilst the app is free to use, there are a number of paid-for referral B2B and B2C services available for those wanting immediate assistance. To date, the firm has built more than 50 partnerships in the UK, with more expected to follow as the firms reach expands.

One of those is Push Doctor, a website working with the NHS to provide immediate access to a registered doctor online for a consultation or medical advice.

The option to connect with a doctor using their smartphone or tablet (voice or video call) will appear at the end of the symptom checking process. The cost of a consultation is £20 for ten minutes, of which Your.MD receives a referral fee.

Push Doctor, which launched in 2015 and has over 7,000 GP’s registered, claims around 86 per cent of all patients have their issues resolved in this time.  Patients can also use this service to order any recommended antibiotics they may need for a reduced price of £60 (NHS, £8.40 per item).

Information regarding the user and their symptoms is made available to the GP they will be connecting with to avoid wasting time.

“You have a pre-screening, so all the standard questions needed to be asked based on your symptoms have been asked already. We won’t send you to the wrong doctor.”

Alemi said the service is designed to help people with busy lives who are unable to see their own GP freely, or for those seeking immediate help.

Your.MD also provides referrals to specific private medical specialists, again, based on the results of the symptom checker.

For example, the company has a partnership with Urban Massage, and will refer patients who are suffering from muscular or joints pain, such as a bad back or neck. It also has agreements with a number of private cardiologists for those suffering with respiratory issues.

“Seeing a doctor is not always that simple. People have busy lives and they can’t always get an appointment at a time that suits them. This provides them with an extra option and gives them more control over the way they manage their own health.”

 

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