How Bot M.D. uses AI to assist young doctors in emerging markets

Sarah-Ann Yong Avatar

Sarah-Ann Yong | 15 March 2019

Imagine being a young doctor in an area where medical professionals are in very short supply.

But that’s not your only major challenge. You also face an unrealistic backlog of paperwork every day as a result of having to constantly generate one patient report after another. Hospital resources are minimal and you lack access to accurate information on drugs and diseases. It’s no wonder that doctors in such situations are overworked and struggling!

This is where Bot M.D. steps in.

Bot M.D. is a smartphone app driven by artificial intelligence. Its makers are on a mission to make doctors’ lives as easy as possible by relieving their administrative workload and assisting them in finding relevant medical data.

To do this, Bot M.D. gives doctors access to accurate and reliable information on drugs, diseases, and clinical guidelines. It also provides instantaneous responses to clinical questions. To help with paperwork, it comes with the ability to automatically transcribe doctors’ voice-recorded notes using natural language processing and machine learning.

The inspiration behind Bot M.D.

Bot M.D.’s Founder and CEO, Dorothea Koh, used to be a General Manager at a Fortune 500 healthcare company. During business trips to emerging markets such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and India, she became frustrated with the lack of healthcare professionals in these places.

This led her to dream of inventing a Bot that could improve the quality of patient care by relieving doctors’ workloads.

Believe it or not, Koh’s first ‘prototype’ of Bot M.D. was built on Facebook Messenger! As the ‘Bot’, Koh answered questions from doctors by looking up the answers on Google. She did this to test her idea without having to first build the actual product.

After two to three months, Koh realized that she usually received a high volume of queries from doctors in rural areas in the middle of the night and on weekends. This validated her suspicions—doctors could benefit from an intelligent bot that answers questions related to drugs, diseases, and other clinical issues.

Having seen that there were people who would use the product, she set out to build it.

Thanks to an introduction by a mutual friend, Koh met Yanchuan Sim over lunch one day and shared her idea with him. Sim had a PhD in Language and Information Technology and was an expert in natural language processing and machine learning. Exactly the person Koh was looking for.

The duo got down to work fast. They brainstormed different ideas on how doctors could use the product and began prototyping.

Building a friendly AI assistant

BotMD services
Image source: Google Play

Koh decided to apply for the prestigious Y-Combinator accelerator programme in Silicon Valley, United States. The stars aligned for the duo when they were accepted into the Summer 2018 batch.

“From a very early point in our Y-Combinator journey, we were advised to work and live in the same place,” says Sim.

They took the advice to heart. Koh, Sim, and three freelance Siberian developers whom they had hired decided to pack up their bags and fly from Singapore to the Valley. They built Bot M.D. from a three-bedroom townhouse in Palo Alto.

They raised US$1.6 million in seed funding from Y-Combinator and angels, including notable Silicon Valley icons and organizations like Steve Blank, Floodgate, and Monks’ Hill Ventures.

Sim described this period as one of the best but most intense experiences of his life. Their team leveraged the network of talent among the Y-Combinator partners, alumni, and batchmates to learn as much as they could, as quickly as possible.

When asked about the most important lesson he learnt during the three months at Y-Combinator, Sim replied: “The importance of listening to our users. We want to continuously obsess about making something people actually want.”

“Best and most importantly, we designed Bot M.D to behave just like a medical colleague—but with a much better sense of humour,” he adds. Bot M.D. is targeted at the millennial generation of doctors who tend to use their mobile phones more actively than their older counterparts do. You can see this is in the bot’s personality, which includes cracking jokes and sending GIFs and emojis to users.

 

After Y-Combinator, Bot M.D.’s team of six returned to Singapore, where they have been working out of the BLK 71 incubator since November 2018.

“We try to get out to different markets almost every two weeks so that we are constantly listening to our users and gathering their feedback to improve our product. We believe in the need to move fast and iterate our product in response to customer feedback,” says Sim. Currently, their development pace involves weekly sprints with a two-week release cycle.

For example, Koh and Sim learned that most doctors use messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Viber to chat with their teams. So, they decided to integrate Bot M.D. into these messaging platforms. This allowed doctors to securely chat with one another, and even call Bot M.D. (the AI assistant) into the conversation if they need additional information.

Now, more than 1,700 doctors from 65 countries use Bot M.D. India and Indonesia have the most number of users.

Every doctor’s best friend

Sim regards their key success metric as being able to accurately understand a doctor’s intent and provide a precise and reliable response.

“Think of Bot M.D. like a quick and reliable reference point for doctors who can respond with answers drawn from medical journals and sources that doctors trust,” says Sim. “Not only that, Bot M.D.’s replies come with links to the source articles, websites, and certain approved open-source databases.”

One of their most memorable success stories involved one of their earliest adopters, a Radiology resident in Venezuela. He used Bot M.D. to easily voice-record his patient case notes. The AI platform automatically transcribed his notes via automatic voice detection transcription, and he would email a copy to himself.

BotMD transcription
Image source: Google Play

This was a major positive change for him, as he used to have to fight with colleagues over the one computer they had in their department.

More recently, the Bot M.D. team added a library feature for doctors to keep track of their patients’ information, data, photos, and diagnoses. As Bot M.D. is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and its data protection requirements, doctors can share photos and patient notes freely on the encrypted platform.

For now, doctors can download Bot M.D. for free on the Android App Store. However, Koh and Sim are planning to adopt a "freemium" model in the future, where users can pay for extra features. They’re also conducting pilots for Bot M.D. with several hospitals in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and the U.S.

Although Bot M.D. is only currently able to respond in English, doctors can translate chat responses into their native languages. The voice transcription facility currently supports over 50 languages, thanks to the recently added translation feature. This benefits doctors in the Latin American markets such as Chile, Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil.

Sim points out that while they aim to help doctors around the world, they are first focusing markets with high patient-to-healthcare-professional ratios. “We believe that Bot M.D. can change lives, quite literally,” he says.

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Sarah-Ann Yong Avatar

Sarah-Ann Yong

A former lawyer turned technology enthusiast, Sarah-Ann is also the host of the ASB Podcast. She believes in harnessing the power of personal branding and storytelling through podcasts, videos and creative writing. When she is not too busy concocting up different passion projects to embark on, she can be found dabbling in yoga and hiking.


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