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Can Artificial Intelligence Disrupt the Healthcare Market?

Some industries progress faster than others, adopting new technologies and adapting quickly to accommodate new consumer behaviour and expectations. In healthcare, although the knowledge base has expanded at a frenzied pace, the patient experience has remained very much the same for generations.

With a Silicon Valley mentality, no traditional business model is off limits.

A San Francisco start-up called Forward is preparing to disrupt at least part of the traditional healthcare industry. The company’s vision is clear: “Artificial intelligence and doctors working together to manage your health.” Has artificial intelligence come so far that it can seriously contribute in professional healthcare?

Forward certainly offers a futuristic take on the popular concierge medical practice model, complete with proprietary high-tech diagnostics tools and an artificial intelligence system that listens to conversations between a patient and physician, taking notes and compiling information for decision-making.

The company was founded in 2016 by experienced technology entrepreneur Adrian Aoun with funds from Khosla Ventures, Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, Eric Schmidt, and Marc Benioff — all top names in the investment community and an indication that Forward’s business model has gone through an intense screening process.

Forward uses a variety of connected devices, from simple off-the-shelf, direct-to-consumer activity trackers such as Fitbit, through medical grade, FDA-approved devices, to an artificial intelligence diagnostics assistant developed in-house. Data collected from the various instruments are fed into Forward’s artificial intelligence engine and the company’s mobile app. Doctors can access a patient’s health history and data collected by sensors to aid clinical decision-making and suggest treatment plans.

Mr Aoun envisions his start-up changing patients’ visit to the doctor’s office, encouraging preventative care by creating a more automated experience. As Mr Aoun noted in several interviews, a patient might visit a doctor once a year for a check-up while “your body hasn’t stopped caring about its health in between.”

Forward isn’t the first company to offer a mix of physical and digital services in healthcare. In 2016, a company called Carbon Health opened a practice, also in San Francisco, which offers clinic services with real doctors, as well as a Web platform and mobile app providing telemedicine, appointment-booking, and prescription refills. Unlike Forward, Carbon Health works with major insurers, and all patients must have coverage to be treated under the system. Forward charges a $149 monthly membership fee for access to its services.

Forward’s implementation of artificial intelligence is not completely clear. The start-up highlights artificial intelligence on its Web site and in interviews, but there’s a feeling that the concept is more of a marketing tool than a diagnostics one. There’s no doubt that Forward is doing something innovative, creating a new atmosphere for a staid duty, but this reminds us that trending technology terms are easy to throw around.

Be prepared to hear more about the use of artificial intelligence in products and services. Many will be superficial as there is no comprehensive definition for artificial intelligence.