Saturday, 23 March 2019

This firm uses AI to help diabetics manage their health in between doctor visits

When this reporter’s father turned 40, he was diagnosed with diabetes. This was 1980, and at the time, diabetes in India was something of a novelty disease. People did know that it was caused due to the lack of insulin hormone, which in non-diabetics is regularly secreted by the pancreas.

That was nearly 40 years ago, and since then the numbers in India have just gone up. World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 8.7% of the population between ages 20 and 70 are victims of type-2 or non-insulin dependent diabetes.

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The rise of the disease is driven by a combination of factors that include rapid urbanization, sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet, tobacco use, and increased life expectancy. 

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Also, the inability to control blood sugar levels is due to the fact that a diabetologist cannot constantly monitor the exercise, blood sugar levels, food intake, and medicine administration of each and every patient. “A doctor may give a prescription and a list of dos and don’ts to follow, but it is up to the patient to adhere to all those factors, and a doctor cannot possibly monitor what each patient does 24 hours of the day,” explains Abhishek Shah, founder and owner of Wellthy Therapeutics, a digital therapeutics firm that empowers doctors, health insurance firms, pharma and medical device companies to aid better health outcomes for patients.

Wellthy uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) and patient centric design to improve patient outcomes for all healthcare stakeholders, in people with cardio-metabolic conditions, starting with type II diabetes. While explaining digital therapeutics, Shah says, “We use artificial intelligence to monitor the day in a life of a diabetic patient. This data is then collected minute-by-minute, and can be given to the doctor at the time of meeting to check the patient’s progress. Depending on how well s/he does, the doctor can accordingly change the medicine dosage or reduce the units of insulin in an individual.”

However, not everyone can access the app that is available in both the Android and iStore. While downloading the app is free, accessing the programme requires an activation code, which they could get either through a prescription from their doctor, via their insurance company or a medical device. . The long road

While the company seems to be doing well at the moment, it wasn’t always easy. “Trying to explain to doctors the importance of digital therapeutics wasn’t easy. There was initial reluctance, but once we got a handful of doctors on board, the others gradually joined our team. Health insurance companies felt that patients monitoring and regularly checking their diabetes would mean a reduced chance of hospitalization and eventually cashless mediclaim,” he explained.

Interestingly, Wellthy has been in the market since late 2017.. While the concept came up in 2015, three years of research and development ensured that the app was continuously updated to improve user experience and patient outcomes.

Success rate

Shah maintains that his app has an 80% success rate when it comes to patients controlling their blood sugar levels. “The remaining 20% is a learning curve for us. There are some that refuse to use the app, despite it getting prescribed. The AI, however, sends reminders, but at the end of the day it’s up to the patient to decide whether s/he wants to be managed” he says.

What lies ahead?

Right now, the app is in English. The challenge, Shah says, is getting an AI to recognize Hindi. “That’s a massive challenge for us now, and we’re looking to fix that. We want to eventually be able to penetrate into the remotest village in India, and help people regulate their diabetes. Obviously for that we will have to develop an AI that recognizes regional dialects as well,” he says.

Apart from diabetes, Shah wants to expand digital therapeutics to other cardiometabolic conditions. “Right now, we’re focusing on diabetes, and we’d rather make the best product before branching out into other conditions,” he says.


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