Medwhat, maker of a health question and answer app, has raised $560,000 in seed funding from Stanford University, Stanford Hospital, Startcaps Ventures and a couple of angel investors.
Medwhat recently graduated from Stanford's StartX accelerator program. CEO and Founder Arturo Devesa told MobiHealthNews in an email that his experience in the accelerator program helped him build contacts in the industry and network with other entrepreneurs.
The company will use the funding to grow its bioinformatics and natural language processing teams, and develop its product further.
The app offers users an "intelligent personal medical and health assistant that can automatically provide a contextual answer to questions posed in natural language". Users create an anonymous profile on Medwhat's app, which includes a few key details such as age, gender, and current medical conditions, and then the app will use that information to answer the user's questions in context. The app also follows up with medical questions, reminders and notifications.
Users can either type questions into the app or ask questions out loud -- the app is powered by Nuance, the same voice recognition software used in Sharecare's app AskMD.
Medwhat uses artificial intelligence through machine learning algorithms to come up with answers to user's questions. Devesa said the only other company that does that instead of using humans to answer questions is IBM's Watson.
"On top of that, MedWhat provides contextual answers using the user's health profile that's incorporated into our answer algorithms." Devesa said. "All of this allows MedWhat to follow up with a question or health push notifications and alerts. It's making the experience come alive, personal and dynamic. The goal is MedWhat learning medicine on its own and having a conversation with the user. In the case of IBM, the difference is MedWhat is for consumers and is not a medical decision support tool. MedWhat doesn't provide a diagnosis, IBM Watson does."
To answer questions, Medwhat uses medical sources such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and PubMed to answer questions. The app also takes information from Wikipedia, but the company says this source is heavily curated.
"Wikipedia medical articles are typically written by doctors," Devesa said. "Still, MedWhat crawls only those articles that use quality references like medical journals on PubMed or the New England Journal of Medicine. Wikipedia is actually really strict on who has permission to write medical articles as the quality is really high."
At Health 2.0 in October 2013, Medwhat told investors the company is partnering with insurers, providers and pharma companies, who can offer a branded version of the app and use the information about what sorts of questions people are asking to improve their business. So far, Devesa said the company has talked to companies in the US and Europe about partnering with Medwhat.
Medwhat is the next in a series of companies to offer users anonymity, most likely in part to sidestep privacy concerns about personal health information. FirstOpinion, like Medwhat, not only provides the users with anonymity, but also aims to be the first line of contact with a patient before they visit the doctor. Unlike Medwhat, FirstOpinion matches users with doctors. Once matched with a doctor, users can text that same doctor for the every question they have.
The company also has plans build MedWhat for the Spanish-speaking global market and in Mandarin for Chinese audiences.
In November, Welltok announced that it will incorporate Watson into an app called CafeWell Concierge, for consumers who use the company's health social network, CafeWell. The app, which is sponsored by health plans, offer participants access to health information, competitive wellness and fitness challenges, reward and incentive programs for healthier lifestyle changes, support for chronic conditions from peers and professionals, and anonymous social networking. CafeWell Concierge will be a premium offering for these population manager customers.