If you had heart surgery and were being discharged, what questions would you be most likely to ask? How would an app distinguish between questions that require an urgent response and others that are simply routine questions that are part of the recovery process? Those are the questions MedWhat’s app seeks to answer. The mobile health startup and StartX graduate has closed a seed funding round of $560,000. Co-founder and CEO Arturo Devesa believes MedWhat’s app, which processes natural language to reach its answers, could lower healthcare costs by helping users answer questions in situations where they may otherwise go to the emergency room.
MedWhat’s app for iOS and Android operating systems uses semantic search technology — a process of understanding the actual meaning of words, concepts and attributes, and providing an answer. It goes beyond keywords and anticipates full questions to generate accurate results.
Devesa told MedCity News in a phone interview that it has raised $560,000 from Startcaps Ventures, Stanford Hospital and Stanford University. Angel investors Howard Wendy and Dr Daniel Michel also participated in the seed round. MedWhat is using the funding to advance the machine learning behind the semantic search technology and the funding has helped add four staff members steeped in computer science and bioinformatics.
The company uses Nuance software which powers the voice technology behind Apple’s Siri and Android solutions such as Samsung’s S Voice. M*Modal, IBM’s Watson and Health Fidelity have also helped health IT companies advance electronic health records and consumer facing tools to produce better results based on how each group of people frames its questions.
Devesa doesn’t view MedWhat’s app as strictly a diagnosis tool. He sees it more as an engagement tool to help narrow user questions such as, “What doctor can help me with a rash?” or “What is the medical specialty for diabetes?” It is based on a review of the most commonly asked health-related questions in the past two years. Although he declined to say how many have downloaded the app since its launch last year, Devesa does volunteer that it has received more than 1 million questions to date.
Although MedWhat is one company in an increasingly crowded market dominated by the likes of Practice Fusion, Devesa doesn’t view the app as limited to any one category. Devesa said its app has generated interest from pharmaceutical companies and thinks other digital health companies would find its tool useful, particularly physician-finder and appointment-scheduling companies such as ZocDoc.
He sees a potentially robust market with payer customers since they need to figure out how to better engage consumers in their healthcare, which was one reason Aetna acquired iTriage in 2011. It is also likely to face a lot of competition there.
But Devesa is also excited by the market potential beyond the U.S. and that is driving the company to advance natural language processing beyond English. MedWhat is working to develop Chinese and Spanish language platforms and then, possibly, Portuguese.
“The market opportunity outside the U.S. is even bigger.”
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