Many of us have been there. You start getting headaches, or maybe your neck feels stiff, so you Google your symptoms. Results show it may be a mild sickness, or it’s something much worse, like cancer.
While it is not recommended to get worked up about your health, it is important to get regular checkups and know how to communicate with providers when concerns arise.
This is where UmbrellaAI comes in, a platform created by Wilmington-based Equal Access Carriers which seeks to help users better advocate for their health while using artificial intelligence that looks at patterns and data to help doctors with a diagnosis.
Chip Venters, serial entrepreneur and CEO of Equal Access Carriers, said he was partially inspired to create the platform when his uncle died of cancer after it took four years to get diagnosed.
Venters had been working with researchers at Golden Gate University using AI software that would see broad patterns; at the time, that tech was applied to fake news on social media.
“So we had the idea, how would it work to have our AI that's so good at seeing patterns and big data sets, how would that work for diagnosing cancer and disease?” he said. “And so, we applied it to that. And it worked very nicely.”
UmbrellaAI was developed through four years of research alongside Golden Gate University and with local physician and medical adviser Kent Locklear. The application was built with the Center for Disease Control’s complete database of diseases and symptoms.
Venters, who previously lived in California and currently teaches at the university remotely, said the application is slated to launch in the next few months.
Through UmbrellaAI, users can upload any medical records, test results, as well as health data from wearable devices and log any symptoms they may be feeling including any that they are concerned about. The AI can detect any anomalies and how the symptoms may fit within a certain disease.
“Diseases all have a signature, just like your fingerprint. Any given disease can have literally thousands of little permutations that are unique to that disease. And so being able to see those is what the beauty of the AI is,” he said. “And, doctors have, since AI came around, been looking forward to having this kind of assistance.”
While the application does not diagnose its users with a disease, it can provide its users and doctors with a list of probabilities, and most importantly, how it arrived at them. UmbrellaAI can show doctors or other providers how it came to its decisions, illustrating significant data points for the patient.
This is an important feature because according to Food and Drug Administration guidance, clinical decision support software “must be intended to enable health care providers to independently review the basis for the recommendations presented by the software so that they do not rely primarily on such recommendations, but rather on their own judgment, to make clinical decisions for individual patients.”
This application can solve a lot of pain points, Venters said. This includes overburdened doctors’ offices causing patients to wait for months for appointments.
“Your average doctor visit is about 15 minutes if you’re lucky these days. And then on top of that, doctors have been proven to only be able to process four or five different variables at the same time. So they barely know what's going on with you. And now they’ve got to try to understand what all this information is. So this tool is great for the doctors,” Venters said. “Some doctors may say, ‘Oh, you’re trying to take our job.’ And the answer is no. This is a great augmentation for them. It can see things that they just can’t see.”
Another issue the app can tackle is that with the high cost of health care, patients may not want to visit a doctor. With UmbrellaAI, they may be encouraged to visit their doctor if the app identifies a serious need.
“It allows them to monitor their health in such a way that, if something really bad is going on, they’re going to want to know,” he said. “It’s an individualized digital twin.”
The name “umbrella” comes from the way the AI can see illnesses like a spider web. When all the data is connected, it can lead to a bigger picture and better diagnosis.
Currently, plans are to launch the application to individual users who Venters said trust their smartphones.
“We decided to design the app to roll out so people could use it first, get used to having something like that in their pocket and then gradually move it over to the medical establishment,” he said.
The app will launch as a free beta to 50,000 users and may eventually go on a subscription basis.
Up to now, the project has been self-funded. With the launch of the app, Venters plans on introducing seed investment rounds in California and North Carolina.
Venters’ goal is that the app enhances patient-doctor interactions.
“There'’s this big buzzword in the medical community right now, it’s called patient-centered care and it really is all about empowering the patient with the information and the tools they need to manage their own health,” he said, “and then also at the same time, be a better source of information for the doctors so they can do their job better as well.”