Ever felt unwell and Googled your symptoms instead of seeing the doctor?
If you have, you know it can be an exercise in futility. Sore throat with a rash? Could be mononucleosis, or scarlet fever, or something called slapped cheek disease!
In other words, you learn only what you already knew — you need to see a doctor.
One startup is trying to bridge the gap between the random search results, and the expense of going to see the doctor only to find out that it’s something relatively benign — and it’s using artificial intelligence to do so.
HealthTap, already connects doctors to patients via video, voice, text messaging. It just started a program called Dr. AI to help “triage” patients, essentially letting them know how urgent their sets of symptoms are.
HealthTap CEO Ron Gutman told Business Insider that the company’s been building the system for the past six years. The AI system is trained on the answers that doctors are giving to people using HealthTap.
“It’s taking the data and transforming it into information, transforming it into knowledge, transforming it into action,” Gutman said.
How it works
On HealthTap’s website or app, users can go on and describe the symptoms they’re feeling. Dr. AI will ask follow up questions and by the end will tell you the probability of different conditions you might have. The system won’t outright diagnose you — that responsibility is still left up to the doctor.
Say for example, a person types in symptoms that sounds like that person may have diabetes. “The recommendation will not say, ‘take insulin,’ it will say ‘see a doctor now,'” Gutman said.
HealthTap isn’t the only one using algorithms to come up with better ways to search the Internet for possible diagnoses. Others, such as WebMD and Healthline have similar sites where you can input symptoms and get probable diagnoses.
Where Gutman says HealthTap will have the advantage is in its conversational interface and the context users can get through personal health records that are available if you decide to pay for the service (in the free version, you can still get answers for symptoms from Dr. AI).
Building a system that can triage patients
Gutman said that the HealthTap platform generates its answers from roughly 104,000 doctors across 141 specialties/sub-specialties in the US, and since its founding in 2010 has had its doctors answer 5.3 billion questions.
For context, there are about 926,000 physicians and specialists in the US, which means that according to HealthTap’s figures about one out of every nine doctors has used the platform to answer questions.
“We see ourselves more as a platform than more than we see ourselves as an employer of doctors,” Gutman said. “We think that we need to create for them the tools, the platform, and they provide care.”