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Number Of Healthcare AI Investments Climbing Rapidly

Posted on August 31, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

I’ve written frequently about the growing influence of artificial intelligence tools on healthcare delivery. These include not only support for advanced analytics and adaptive processes but also a growing number of clinically-oriented chatbots.

As far as I knew, these trends were early in their lifecycle, and ventures dipping their toes into healthcare AI were still just dots on a map. Apparently, I was way off on this one.

According to a recent article from CB Insights, healthcare has been, and continues to be, the top industry for AI investment deals. According to the company, there were 29 venture capital investments in healthcare AI last quarter, and from what analysts are saying, that number may rise substantially over the next few quarters. In fact, analysts noted that as of late August, it looked like this quarter’s level of healthcare AI deals would beat the previous quarter’s results.

Just to be clear, CB Insights’ definition of “healthcare AI” covers a lot of ground. The firm defines AI in healthcare as occurring when startups leverage machine learning algorithms to reduce drug discovery times, provide virtual assistance to patients or improve the accuracy of medical imaging and diagnostic procedures – plus some additional unspecified additional applications. (Its list does exclude hardware-focused robotics startups and health-related AR/VR ventures.)

Still, even if you peel away the drug discovery, research and diagnostics investments, there’s plenty of VC deals to track. For example, UK-based Babylon Health raised $60 million in funding the past quarter, the largest funding round tracked by CB Insights. Perhaps this is less surprising given that Babylon Health’s first VC deal included money from Alphabet’s DeepMind Technologies, a nice pedigree for any startup, but it’s still a huge deal. (As you’ll see if you click the link, DeepMind has plenty of healthcare IT development of its own going on.)

Other interesting funding deals included investments in mental health startup Spring Health and risk analytics company OM1, which snagged $15 million in Series A funding. Also, CB Insights found that while most deals involved US companies, four healthcare AI investments went to companies in India and three to companies in China.

Having absorbed this data, I’m eager to see whether my pet interest makes it onto CB Insights’ radar for Q3 of this year. You may already have a general idea about how AI is being deployed in predictive analytics for use in clinical care improvement, or to increase researchers’ ability to pinpoint genes for precision medicine projects, but you may not be aware that another hot application for AI use in healthcare is to provide counseling (and perhaps, in the future, psychiatric services) via chatbot.

I find these services particularly interesting because psychotherapy via AI has some characteristics which differentiate it from many other forms of AI-driven clinical options. One standout is that people may actually tell a chatbot more than they will a live person in some cases, which makes such bots helpful in supporting populations (such as soldiers with PTSD) which might be unlikely to open up otherwise. Let’s see if such applications attract big VC investors anytime soon.

The Healthcare AI Future, From Google’s DeepMind

Posted on February 22, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

While much of its promise is still emerging, it’s hard to argue that AI has arrived in the health IT world. As I’ve written in a previous article, AI can already be used to mine EMR data in a sophisticated way, at least if you understand its limitations. It also seems poised to help providers predict the incidence and progress of diseases like congestive heart failure. And of course, there are scores of companies working on other AI-based healthcare projects. It’s all heady stuff.

Given AI’s potential, I was excited – though not surprised – to see that world-spanning Google has a dog in this fight. Google, which acquired British AI firm DeepMind Technologies a few years ago, is working on its own AI-based healthcare solutions. And while there’s no assurance that DeepMind knows things that its competitors don’t, its status as part of the world’s biggest data collector certainly comes with some advantages.

According to the New Scientist, DeepMind has begun working with the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, which oversees three hospitals. DeepMind has announced a five-year agreement with the trust, in which it will give it access to patient data. The Google-owned tech firm is using that data to develop and roll out its healthcare app, which is called Streams.

Streams is designed to help providers kick out alerts about a patient’s condition to the cellphone used by the doctor or nurse working with them, in the form of a news notification. At the outset, Streams will be used to find patients at risk of kidney problems, but over the term of the five-year agreement, the developers are likely to add other functions to the app, such as patient care coordination and detection of blood poisoning.

Streams will deliver its news to iPhones via push notifications, reminders or alerts. At present, given its focus on acute kidney injury, it will focus on processing information from key metrics like blood tests, patient observations and histories, then shoot a notice about any anomalies it finds to a clinician.

This is all part of an ongoing success story for DeepMind, which made quite a splash in 2016. For example, last year its AlphaGo program actually beat the world champion at Go, a 2,500-year-old strategy game invented in China which is still played today. DeepMind also achieved what it terms “the world’s most life-like speech synthesis” by creating raw waveforms. And that’s just a couple of examples of its prowess.

Oh, and did I mention – in an achievement that puts it in the “super-smart kid you love to hate” category – that DeepMind has seen three papers appear in prestigious journal Nature in less than two years? It’s nothing you wouldn’t expect from the brilliant minds at Google, which can afford the world’s biggest talents. But it’s still a bit intimidating.

In any event, if you haven’t heard of the company yet (and I admit I hadn’t) I’m confident you will soon. While the DeepMind team isn’t the only group of geniuses working on AI in healthcare, it can’t help but benefit immensely from being part of Google, which has not only unimaginable data sources but world-beating computing power at hand. If it can be done, they’re going to do it.