This Indian Start-Up Is Using AI To Monitor COVID-19 Progression In Patients
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In most developing countries, especially one as populous and diverse as India, healthcare is often not given due importance. And if one dives in a little deeper, the problem of finding specialists looms large. For one, India finds itself desperately short when it comes to radiologists. For the uninitiated, radiology is the medical discipline that uses imaging like X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs’ for diagnosis and treating diseases.
“We asked ourselves if we could build technology that can automatically interpret radiology images and improve the quality of care provided in areas where there is no radiologist access and that’s how we came about working on this idea,” says Prashant Warier, co-founder and chief executive officer at Qure.ai.
Founded in 2016 by Warier and Dr. Pooja Rao, the start-up uses artificial intelligence developed on a database of over seven million scans to provide accurate interpretations of radiology scans within seconds. More recently, the company has tweaked its algorithms that can detect about 19 chest abnormalities, to help with monitoring the progress of the novel Coronavirus inside a patient.
Named qXR, the software scans a chest X-Ray in about a minute and provides details about whether a patient was getting better as a result of the treatments administered. This solution becomes especially important in a place like India, to prioritize patients who need immediate attention, both from a cost perspective as well as pressure on the existing healthcare infrastructure. The qXR solution has previously been used for tuberculosis screening as well.
Typically, COVID-19 shows up as ground-glass opacities on a chest X-ray, and appears towards the lower and outer parts of the lung.
“We are looking at where the abnormalities are, which part of the lung is affected, what kind of abnormalities are there as well as their size, and then using all that information to create a COVID-19 score, which indicates whether somebody is high-, medium-, or low-risk for COVID-19,” Warier says.
It has currently been deployed in seven countries, with several different use-cases, one among them to figure who really needs to get a swab test, considering the time and resources being spent on that front. According to Warier, it can also potentially help in the development of therapeutic approaches to fight the disease. “This kind of an objective quantification is very useful because by precisely quantifying lung damage we can accurately measure the effectiveness of a drug regimen,” he says.
They are working with hospitals, non-governmental organizations and even city municipalities for the deployment on-ground. While they charge around $1-$2 per test for their solutions globally, the activity in India has so far been done free-of-cost under corporate social responsibility. Notably, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the governing civic body of Mumbai, has been using the company’s solution.
Separately, the company has also come up with a solution named qScout which helps in remote monitoring of patients. Once a patient is registered on the app, the chatbot helps monitor those who are in home isolation. It checks if the person’s symptoms are getting better or worse, and then suggests future course of action. This solution is currently being used by the government of Oman.
From a business perspective, the company has seen rapid growth in recent times. From being deployed at about 8-10 sites a year ago, it has now grown that base to more than 70 sites, across more than 25 countries. The number of scans per day has grown to 5,000-10,000 from 100-200 from a year earlier. In February, Qure.ai raised $16 million in a funding round led by Sequoia India.