Walter DeBrouwer, the Belgian inventor who founded Scanadu, the sometimes controversial personal medical scanner company, is coming out of stealth mode with his new venture: an AI-powered “robodoctor” (his words) called doc.ai.
“What I really liked to do at Scanadu was machine learning, the math and the machine learning,” DeBrouwer told MobiHealthNews. “I didn’t like the hardware. I had to do it because I needed structured inputs, but that hardware wasn’t the main thing. My original background is computational linguistics.”
With an inclination to stay focused on medicine but to move into strictly software, DeBrouwer and longtime confidante Dr. Alan Greene (who serves as chief medical officer at doc.ai, as he did at Scanadu) decided the opportunity lay in the growing number of “omics” — genomics, microbiomics, phenomics, etc. — and the amount of data that was piling up about the human body, without a good way to interpret it.
“So we were thinking, if [Dr. Eric Topol’s] prophecy comes true and all these omics are coming and all these numbers are coming, we’re running out of humanity to explain these numbers,” DeBrouwer said. “So what are we going to do? We have shortage of doctors. We did telehealth, putting doctors on a conveyor belt and paying them $50 for 10 minutes. But even that won’t be sufficient because doctors are not calculators. We need machines to do this.”
With doc.ai, DeBrouwer plans to take one task away from doctors and give it to an artificial intelligence: interpreting lab results. The company’s first product will interpret blood tests, then genetic tests, then they'll gradually add other kinds of tests.
The platform will use natural language processing to literally converse with patients via an app and explain their lab results to them. If and only if communication reaches an impasse, the platform can refer patients to a human doctor.
Unlike with Scanadu — which earned the nickname “Scamadu” and the ire of some customers when the device failed to get FDA approval and users’ investigational devices were essentially bricked — doc.ai isn’t being sold direct to consumers. Instead, doc.ai has teamed up with Deloitte as a channel partner to distribute its technology to healthcare providers.
DeBrouwer, who left Scanadu a few years ago, says he wasn’t involved in the handling of the Scanadu Scouts after the conclusion of the FDA trial, but called the situation “a misunderstanding”.
DeBrouwer says that he doesn’t think doctors will have a problem with a platform that takes away a not-much-liked part of their job and frees them up to focus on more important matters. He likened doctors to private bankers, whose job is to advise patients, whereas the AI would play the role of an accountant, whose job is just to keep the patient educated on their current state.
“I think we are just expanding the decision tools of healthcare,” DeBrouwer said. “We have doctors, we have WebMD — we’re just expanding the decision tools. The same thing happened in banking. First we had ATMs, then robo advisors for stocks, then we had AI for portfolios, and you know, now we have more private bankers than ever.”