News, Insights and Stories from the Australian and New Zealand tech ecosystem.

Europe-founded, New Zealand-trialled app Ada offers a virtual assessment of health symptoms in real time

Smart medical decisions and diagnostics are now being made by artificial intelligence through desktop computers and apps. Long gone are the days when Google diagnosed everyone with cancer – smarter intelligence systems in healthtech are now emerging with more intuitive responses, benefiting both patients and doctors.

These systems are not trying to replace the doctor, but instead look to alleviate the time patients spend in waiting rooms and being assessed. The healthtech sector is a growing competitive space with companies like Google, Apple and Facebook all offering new and smarter tech to disrupt the entire healthcare industry, and it is an industry in desperate need of help.

According to a CSIRO report on digital healthcare, Australian hospital expenditure is growing at six percent per annum. In 2011, public hospital expenditure totalled $42 billion. The Australian government has already created a range of initiatives like My Health Record and Telehealth to electronically manage health information and treat patients outside of hospitals. These services look to deliver safer, more efficient and better quality healthcare.

Similarly, New Zealand is also facing increasing public expenditure in healthcare. In 2013 a Treasury report revealed the country had more than doubled its spend on healthcare and warned that if the trend continued, spend would amount to 10.7 percent of total GDP by 2050.

To decrease the cost of hospital expenditure and relieve the time spent between patient and doctor is a new healthtech app called Ada. The app is a diagnosis smartphone service that was built in Berlin and London with the input of more than 100 medical doctors and years of clinical research.

Ada has chosen New Zealand as its first test market to trial the app with patients and doctors. Cofounder of Ada Dr Claire Novorol said New Zealand was chosen as New Zealanders are “forward-thinking” and “great with new technology.”

New Zealand has a population of 4.5 million people and has one of the most thriving startup tech scenes per capita in the world. With startup companies like Xero thriving and being widely adopted by the community the country is a great place to gain early insights and traction.

Through an interactive and easy to navigate UI, Ada asks users a series of questions about either their own or loved ones health symptoms. Questions become increasingly specific as potential diagnoses are explored before a full report and likely diagnosis is given.

For example, Ada asks personal questions about what health symptoms they are experiencing, including “does your skin feel itchy,” “are your lymph knots swollen,” and even “does your penis hurt.” These are some questions that may make the user feel uncomfortable when answering to a human, but the awkwardness is removed when talking to artificial intelligence.

Ada - Mock

Through continual use, Ada starts making a digital health record and can make connections between a user’s medical history and present symptoms. Ada also asks questions related to sexually transmitted diseases. For example, if a user is a 30 year old male they are more likely to get an STD. If a user complains about experiencing regular headaches, Ada will also ask the user if they drink a lot of alcohol.

“This is smart artificial assessment software at a level of sophistication the global health industry has not yet seen. Ada is going to revolutionise the industry and we’re incredibly proud of what we’ve built. This is the future of the health industry, today,” Novorol said.

However, it must be understood that Ada is not a replacement doctor and nor should the advice it gives go without a professional human opinion. Novorol explained that Ada was created as a smart health assessment, working as a pre-doctor assessment.

The full assessment report produced by Ada is sent to the user’s GP to give doctors a list of the patients symptoms before they arrive. Each assessment is analysed by the software and then presented to the doctor in real-time.

The pre-assessment reduces the time doctors spend with patients, as according to Ada doctors spend much of their patient-facing time asking questions about the patient’s health.

“With Ada, you can choose to share the information with your GP. That means you’re not spending three quarters of your visit having to explain to them what symptoms you have before they help you get better. They will already have that information in front of them as you enter the room. The app will also store your medical history for you,” explained Novorol.

Ada is free for users to download and will in the future offer built in paid features like a ‘talk to a doctor’ option. This feature is not yet available in New Zealand but will be rolled out when the app launches in Europe later this year. Novorol explained that users will be charged per call, per family package or per a monthly descriptions. These prices have yet to be decided.

Ada has already won several awards in Europe and has received more than NZ$25 million in private funding as well as a NZ$3.6 million grant by the EU.

Ada is already live in New Zealand and launched yesterday for trials in Australia. Other healthtech startups like CliniCloud have also used overseas markets to test products and services. The Australian-born app is now based in the US and like Ada also tries to bridge the gap between patient and doctor, giving health checks of a users basic vital signs through intuitive technology. 

Currently Ada is only available in English, which means other English speaking countries will be the next to trial the service. The startup is trialling three products in New Zealand – the Ada app for users, Ada Professional for doctors, and Ada Science for medical prevention.

Novorol said, “The possibility to talk to a doctor through the app offers the huge possibility to deal with all your health matters in the comfort of your home. Currently, all our doctors are based in Berlin and London. To make it more convenient for the patient and the time zone he or she is in, we might offer that service in New Zealand too when we see traction here.”

Image: Ada Team. Source: Supplied.

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