The Rise and Rise of Patient Companions

by Dr Sven Jungmann and Felix Staeritz

When was the last time you or someone close to you had a medical problem? How was your journey from the first symptoms until you saw a doctor? In all likelihood that journey will look very different two years from now. One reason is the rise of patient companion apps: data-driven virtual assistants for people with not-so-trivial health problems.

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

Today, most of us who want to make sense of odd new symptoms begin by browsing google and asking people in their network who seem sufficiently competent. The first two questions that are on our minds when we fall ill are:

  1. is this bad?
  2. will I need professional help or can I just wait and see?

The third question, if we do need to see a doctor, typically is:

3. who can help me in the fastest, most effective way?

These three questions are typically difficult to answer for most laypeople. It’s of course a simple task if you are privileged enough to have doctors in your circle of friends or family but most of us don’t. Instead, they rely on confusing and often scary and untrustworthy information on the web.

As a result, many seek medical help when they would end up just fine staying at home. Others go to the hospital too late. For them, irreversible damage could have been prevented, had they seen a doctor sooner. And then there’s a third category of people who suffer from our current self-guided system: people who do access care but go to the wrong provider, like the stroke patient who drives to her GP instead of calling an ambulance.

Whether it is overuse, underuse, or misuse, all three scenarios are not only a catastrophe for the individual, they also put immense avoidable costs on our already strained system. One of the most used expressions of 2020 was “flattening the curve” — communities did their best to reduce the Covid-19 infections to a minimum in order to avoid overburdening our hospitals.

But even outside of such pandemic crises we can do much better at using our scarce resources wisely and avoiding unnecessary efforts for patients while maximising health outcomes. There are many levers to pull and one is becoming particularly popular these days:

These companions come in different forms and serve different patients. Some focus on very specific diseases while others are more general advisors. Regardless of the focus, here’s, by and large, what most of them do (if you want an example, look at www.alley.de, a companion we helped create):

  • Making sense of the situation By assessing users’ symptoms, known diseases, medication, and sometimes sensor data, they can provide personalised recommendations to the patients. It helps them understand what they are likely to have as well as if and who they should see
  • Patient education Because they end up knowing their users better than Google does, they are uniquely suited to provide them with bespoke educational material. Only the pieces of information relevant to them are shown and what is presented is thoroughly curated and quality checked.
  • Facilitating doctors’ work There’s evidence that when patients go through an automated history taking process with a computer, the machine will be able to provide doctors with more comprehensive and more accurate data while the doctors need to spend less time on asking all those questions: patients come better prepared with a structured set of highly relevant data.
  • Creating more touchpoints Today, our care system looks more like an archipelago than an actual system. You only get spotted help but are then largely left alone once you left the hospital or your doctor’s office. By creating a digital touchpoint, you can enhance that access to 24/7 availability, allowing you to review critical information that you have forgotten or finding answers to questions you didn’t think of previously.
  • Enabling a learning system Most exciting, however, is that care companions enable us to collect more data on how our patients are doing. How do they feel right after they get discharged? Is everything okay? How do they feel 6 or 12 months after surgery? There are so many things we can learn from these outcomes. For instance, we will soon deploy artificial intelligence at scale to identify those at risk of complications sooner to move from a reactive to a proactive health system.

According to a Deloitte report, 2018 and 2019 saw rapid increases in investment into well-being and care delivery innovators, as well as innovators leveraging AI, machine learning, and the Internet of Things to enable their products and solutions.

As insurers are getting understandably annoyed that they have to foot the bill of inefficient healthcare allocations and watch their customers get sub ideal care, they are increasingly moving from being mere ‘payers’ to becoming active ‘players’ — digital companions are a fabulous way of transitioning towards that role.

Similarly, pharmaceutical companies and medtech developers are increasingly interested in creating digital value-added services to support their customers even better.

And even hospitals want to have more touchpoints and more efficient guidance for their patients to free up capacities while making their services more convenient for their patients.

Felix Staeritz Felix Staeritz is a successful mission-driven entrepreneur. As Co-Founder and CEO of FoundersLane he has advised and built new digital businesses related to climate and health with more than 30 Forbes listed companies. He is a board member at the WorldEconomic Forum’s Digital Leaders, initiator of the FightBack community and investor.

Dr Sven Jungmann Sven Jungmann is a doctor-turned-entrepreneur. He is a partner at FoundersLane and an advisor to health start-ups and investors. Handelsblatt listed him among Germany’s smartest innovators.

FoundersLane creates new, fast-growing digital companies in categories that are highly topical and current. FoundersLane counts more than 100 founders, experts and entrepreneurs with great expertise in the fields of medicine, health, climate, disruptive technologies such as IoT connectivity, AI, and machine learning. Clients and partners include SMEs and corporations as well as more than 30 of the Forbes 500 companies, such as Trumpf, Vattenfall, Henkel and Baloise. FoundersLane is active in Europe, MENA and Asia with offices in Berlin, Cologne, and London.

Independent corporate company builder, co-creating digital businesses together with leading global corporations.

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