COVID-19: Start-ups driving revolution in remote health sector – 台北時報

From mental health apps to a helmet that can shock a patient’s brain remotely, start-ups at this year’s Web Summit are betting on a major shift toward “telemedicine” as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Using technology to treat patients remotely was a major theme at one of the world’s largest tech conferences, which returned to Lisbon last week after COVID-19 forced it to move online last year.

“These days, most people use their phones for a lot of everyday needs — why shouldn’t healthcare be part of this?” said Johannes Schildt, whose company — Kry International AB — lets patients book on-screen medical appointments.

Photo: Bloomberg

“The pandemic has accelerated adoption of these new technologies,” Schildt said.

Sweden-based Kry, which operates in five European countries, is far from the only app designed to do away with the need to physically visit a doctor.

Not all of these start-ups focus on physical health.

US-based Calmerry is among a growing number of e-counseling companies that offer video sessions with mental health therapists.

Most public healthcare systems offer limited access to such services, or none at all.

With weekly subscriptions starting at US$42, Calmerry cofounder Oksana Tolmachova said that a key goal was to make therapy more affordable.

Other apps are taking a different approach to tackle a surge in depression and anxiety seen worldwide during the pandemic.

Mental health chatbot Woebot also invites users to discuss their problems, but the replies come from artificial intelligence (AI) rather than a human therapist.

While some might be unnerved by the idea of pouring one’s heart out to a piece of software, studies suggest that confiding in a virtual therapist could encourage people to open up.

Woebot founder Alison Darcy, a clinical research psychologist, said that the chatbot avoided the “baggage and social constructs” that come with human interactions — worrying that the other person might judge you, for instance.

Given the dearth of trained therapists compared with the number of people who need help with their mental health, Darcy said that AI is a valid tool for approaching the problem.

“We need to be throwing everything at helping people get well,” she said.

Darcy does not believe chatbots should replace human therapists outright, and AI has been shown to have its limits when it comes to healthcare.

The British Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in March expressed concern over the symptom-checking software used by telemedicine company Babylon Health, after reports that it failed to recognize some cases of serious conditions.

Critics of the shift toward telemedicine also worry that providers might be tempted to prescribe patients cheaper virtual appointments when they would prefer to see a doctor face-to-face.

Several health start-ups say that the future lies in blending the two.

“Digital has a significant part to play, but the physical experience is also vital — we have physical clinics too in Sweden, Norway and France,” Schildt said.

He also rejected the criticism that not everyone has access to services such as Kry, which require a smartphone or computer and a decent Internet connection.

Kry has patients in their 90s who find their way around its technology, Schildt said.

Overall, he said that “digital widens access” to healthcare.

One remaining challenge is that legislation in many countries has yet to catch up with the telemedicine revolution, although that has started changing in the past few years.

Virtual appointments have been available via France’s public healthcare system since 2018, while Germany last year started allowing doctors to prescribe the use of apps, such as weight trackers.

In between appointments, people can continue to monitor their health remotely thanks to yet more start-ups.

Ana Maiques, co-founder of Barcelona-based Neuroelectrics, showed a crowd at the Web Summit how a helmet developed by the company can monitor patients’ brains.

The device uses sensors to show the activity in different parts of the brain and can even pulse electricity into target areas, helping to treat conditions such as epilepsy remotely.

Spanish football legend Iker Casillas is among the investors in Idoven, a start-up that uses AI to analyze data from home heart monitoring kits.

Its technology is designed to detect irregular heart rhythms that could prove dangerous — an issue that Casillas cares about deeply, following a heart attack in 2019.

“We are the first company in the world capable of doing it,” Idoven CEO Manuel Marina Breysse said.

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source: COVID-19: Start-ups driving revolution in remote health sector – 台北時報

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