This interview is part of our new AI in Healthcare series, where we interview the world's top thought leaders on the front lines of the intersections between AI and healthcare.
In this interview, we speak with Adam Odessky, co-founder and CEO of Sensely, to understand how his company is using AI to transform healthcare, and what the future of the industry holds.
1. What’s the story behind Sensely? Why and how did you begin?
AO: I had been watching how my grandmother was cared for. It seemed to me that large healthcare institutions were being asked to deploy technology to help manage efficient patient care, but that they, unfortunately, didn’t have a great way to communicate with patients in an empathetic way. This was in 2013.
I decided to take my background in IVR (Interactive Voice Response) to see if I could build something that addressed this problem. At the same time, I met Ivana Schnur, a doctor and clinical psychologist who was working on how to use avatars to help clinicians treat veterans with PTSD. We decided to team up, as we felt that our interests and talents were quite synergistic.
2. Please describe your use case and how Sensely uses artificial intelligence:
AO: Think of Sensely as a platform company that has also identified some common use cases that are of high utility to the healthcare and insurance industries. For example, the need to quickly assess patient symptoms and then route patients to an appropriate level of care is a common pain point. To address this use case, we’ve partnered with Mayo Clinic, which has been delivering logic-based structured algorithms through their nurse call centers for many years. Our virtual assistant integrates the Mayo Clinic algorithms to recommend care navigation pathways based on self-reported patient symptoms.
When we talk about the realm of advanced intelligence, today we’re mainly evaluating how we can use technology to make the conversational experience more lifelike and meaningful.
Take the example of symptom checking. If we notice that patients are commonly using a specific phrase to describe how they are feeling, we can then add this phrase to our natural language directory that is “understood” by the assistant. Today, we’re doing this with humans, not a “black box,” and so we generally steer away from using the term “artificial intelligence” to describe what we are deploying commercially.
3. Could you share a specific customer/user that benefits from what you offer? What has your service done for them?
AO: In the UK, we’ve partnered with the National Health Service (NHS), which is the largest single-payer healthcare system in the world. We built a mobile app called Ask NHS, which includes functionality for locating care services, booking doctor appointments, and accessing a large library of self-care resources.
The benefits are multi-factorial. For patients, they get access to a virtual assistant that never sleeps, and that can help them enjoy more robust access to a variety of primary care services. As you might expect, patients like this. It helps put them at ease and gives them peace of mind.
For the NHS in its capacity as both the payor and provider, offering a convenient digital access point to patients helps utilize clinician time more efficiently, allowing the most acute cases to get the care they need. There is also a strong financial outcome. Specifically, we find that use of the app leads to a double-digit percentage drop in costs, as patients shift their aggregate utilization from higher cost to lower cost services.