Using artificial intelligence to revolutionize diabetes treatment

By Lean Alfred Santos 08 April 2016

The Suggestic app is designed to help people with diabetes navigate towards a healthier lifestyle. How can artificial intelligence play a role in the development of health care services? Photo by: Suggestic

A Silicon Valley startup wants to use artificial intelligence to help diabetes patients better navigate health and lifestyle decisions.

Suggestic, an application and Internet-based platform, is looking to fuse medical advances with a growing trend of personalized healthcare — making interventions specific to the individual patient. The company launched a beta version of its technology earlier this month and has a few thousand people signed up in their waiting list to try out the service.

“We call it the ‘lifestyle GPS’ because we want it to work as a personal assistant to help diabetic people to have a better lifestyle,” Shai Rosen, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Suggestic, told Devex. “We want to give people a virtual presence right next to them 24 [hours a day] and 7 [days a week] to make small habit-changing choices.”

Founded in July 2014, Suggestic focuses on creating personalized interventions in just about every aspect of type 2 diabetes patients’ lives — and even those of their family and friends.

Rosen sees his group’s work as part of a broader trend in precision medicine: the most effective strategies for each individual. That move is part of a broader paradigm shift from the generalist point of view that has prevailed in the healthcare and medical industry in the past. “We’re all the same human beings but at the same time we’re all very different. We’ve seen that treating everyone as if we’re all the same just doesn’t work,” he said.

“We believe that the future of health has to do with deep and advanced personalization,” he said. “When we say personalization, we’re not only talking about the physiological [and] biological side … but it also has to do with understanding who the person is in terms of behavior, culture, context, what they do, why they do it, and so on.”

The Silicon Valley startup aims to initially focus on the over 30 million people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the United States and provide them with better lifestyle suggestions to guide them in tackling the disease holistically.

While their initial target market is focused in the U.S., Rosen isn’t ruling out making the program and the technology available worldwide, especially to the 422 million people afflicted with the disease in 2014, according to the World Health Organization.

How it works

Suggestic’s platform works by using a powerhouse of data to provide an interactive solutions for patients.

On the back end, it uses artificial intelligence technology to sift through thousands of medical journals and other knowledge, curated by a director of medical affairs, to provide personalized suggestions to the users.

“We have encoded in the platform thousands of scientific and medical papers, guidelines and interventions about diabetes,” he said. “What the platform does internally is it creates very specific, personalized and precise plan or lifestyle intervention that has to do with matching who you are to the possibilities in the scientific knowledge.”

Utilizing artificial intelligence this way will not only help medical and healthcare professionals to have a more precise delivery of service to their patients (no need to sift through thousands of medical knowledge manually), but it also educates the patients and their loved ones about their conditions and the treatments available to them.

“We add knowledge to the platform and the platform learns from that, then gives it to the user and learns back from them as well,” Rosen said.

Backed by this data, the app provides users a space for personalized interaction, said Rosen. The app will function like a chat: “as if you’re talking to a human being,” he said. Some of the possible interventions include food choices, physical activities, and medical checkups, among others.

AI in health care

The health care industry has seen a rise in the number of applications for artificial intelligence in recent years. Technology company IBM, for instance, has been ramping up efforts in the development of AI with its Watson Health system, which can assess huge amounts of patient data, provide guidance on technical decisions, and improve overall clinical workflow.

The market thinks applications of AI like this could be big business. A January report by research firm Frost & Sullivan found that revenues from the use of artificial intelligence in the health care industry are expected to increase tenfold from $600 million in 2014 to more than $6.6 billion in 2021.

Other firms that have focused their efforts on utilizing AI technologies include Portland-based startup AkēLex, which provides an adaptive learning tool to offer guidance to caregivers based on their patients’ profiles. Austin-based firm Cognitive Scale is another example, offering a cloud-based medical knowledge.

Yet critics raise some concerns (including ethical ones) about using AI on a wider scale. Careers and livelihoods in medicine could be replaced by machines, for example.

But Rosen sees Suggestic — and AI more broadly — as more of a complementary element in healthcare and medical services. The data and knowledge it provides supplements, rather than replaces, existing jobs.

“Our vision … is to augment the capacity of medical professionals, not only give them more tools but also of their reach,” he said. “Like in the case of a diabetic patient, if they see their doctors once or twice a year, what happens to the rest of the 363 days?”

The technology itself is also still far from perfect. As it becomes refined, Rosen believes AI’s potential will become more significant, not just in health care but also a host of other sectors,.

“I think [AI] applies to everything … [and] I believe it will help us skip many steps,” he said. “At least where we are now and what we see, AI is not perfect. It’s far from perfect but it has the capability to analyze a lot of information that would otherwise take a lot of people and resources and time to do.”

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About the author

Lean 2
Lean Alfred Santos@DevexLeanAS

Lean Alfred Santos is a Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Prior to joining Devex, he covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics. Lean is based in Manila.


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