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Can artificial intelligence expand health care access?

MIT startup Remedy may reduce health care costs and expand doctors’ reach

By Amy MacMillan Bankson  |  January 20, 2017

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“Remy,” Remedy’s virtual medical companion

With the future of the Affordable Care Act in question and debate about health care costs, coverage, and delivery methods continuing around the country, an increasing number of people in the United States are relying on telemedicine for their health needs. According to a report by the research firm Tractica, telemedicine use, or clinical services provided in a remote setting, is projected to increase 700 percent by 2020.

Remedy, co-founded by several MIT and Princeton alumni, is trying to ease the pain of high-deductible plans by offering affordable access to doctors, augmented by artificial intelligence. “Remy,” the company’s automated medical companion, similar to a chatbot, can already perform tasks such as collecting and summarizing patient medical history and complaints for physicians.

Remy combines chat with a structured questionnaire that ensures patients’ details are captured clearly. Remy then sends the information to a Remedy physician who can confidentially diagnose and treat the patient remotely. The patient and doctor can communicate through a chat interface, and patients can send a photo or video for the doctor to examine. The doctor then suggests treatment options and, if appropriate, will write a prescription (for non-controlled medications only). Each Remedy telemedicine visit costs $30, with or without insurance, and returning patients can build relationships with their preferred doctors.

While Remedy cannot treat every medical situation, such as a heart attack for example, it does cover and triage approximately 70 percent of the various cases that typically come through an urgent or primary care clinic, said co-founder Michael Ng, MBA ’16. Following a consult, if Remedy cannot treat a patient, the patient will not be charged.

2017-Remedy-founder2Mike Ng

According to a study by the American College of Physicians, doctors spend nearly 50 percent of their time on electronic health records and other desk work. Remedy doctors don’t have to spend as much time entering details into patients’ electronic files, as Remy does that for them, Ng said. “Our system augments each doctor, so they can treat more patients more effectively without decreasing the quality of care,” Ng said. “And by doing so, we can provide a superior user experience at a fraction of the cost of traditional alternatives.”

A health care option for gig workers
Joshua Forman, an MIT Sloan lecturer and a former Entrepreneur in Residence at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, has worked with Remedy as a mentor, and said the telemedicine market has tremendous opportunities, particularly with the growth in the number of freelance or “gig” workers who do not have access to employer-sponsored health care.

“As costs are shifted from payers to patients, a rationally-behaving, under-served market is opening up for health care services that innovators like Remedy can take advantage of,” Forman said. “And if we see the Affordable Care Act fully or partially repealed as appears likely, there will be additional pressure on private markets to serve people who have lost their access to reimbursed, traditional health care services.”

Remedy publicly launched in December last year and is currently only treating patients in California, but Ng said the company plans to expand to other states in 2018.