‘Medical Google’ for doctors? This mobile chatbot app could be it
SINGAPORE — Bot MD, a smartphone application that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to answer questions on drugs, diseases and other medical-related issues, provides automatic voice-to-text transcriptions, a notes function for doctors to digitise their records, and a language translation function. It also includes a group chat feature for doctors to communicate with their medical colleagues in a secure setting.
SINGAPORE — When Ms Dorothea Koh began travelling to developing nations for work, she realised just how ill-equipped doctors in smaller rural areas were to deal with a large number of patients.
An idea struck her then. What if she could use technology, in the form of a chatbot, to instantly provide them with answers to their questions?
Armed with that thought, the 33-year-old decided to leave her job at a Fortune 500 healthcare company and team up with another Singaporean to start Bot MD.
Along with Mr Sim Yanchuan, 32, she applied for the prestigious Y Combinator accelerator programme in Silicon Valley, United States. It serves as a platform for start-ups around the world to build their business and get advice from founders of other established start-ups, such as home-sharing outfit Airbnb.
After getting accepted earlier this year, the pair began working on Bot MD, a smartphone application that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to answer questions on drugs, diseases and other medical-related issues.
Three months later, they returned to Singapore from the US. In early July this year, they launched the app in the Android app store.
Bot MD provides automatic voice-to-text transcriptions, a notes function for doctors to digitise their records, and a language translation function. It also includes a group chat feature for doctors to communicate with their medical colleagues in a secure setting.
Not only that: It tells jokes and sends funny gifs.
"We wanted to come up with an affordable way to help doctors working in developing economies… And we know that mobile phone technology has progressed so much. Anywhere you travel, there is a cell phone signal," Ms Koh told TODAY.
Her previous stints in several healthcare companies allowed her to travel and immerse herself in big, emerging markets such as China, Indonesia and the Philippines.
"When you look at how much doctors have to do, it's incredible. They have huge numbers of patients; they're just overwhelmed," she added. "Smaller centres (in more rural areas) don't have the expertise to deal with certain patients, so the bot acts like a first-line response system."
Think of it like a "quick reference", Mr Sim explained. When doctors ask the chatbot a question, it almost immediately responds with answers drawn from medical journals and sources that doctors trust. Replies come with links to the source articles or websites as well.
For information on drugs, the bot pulls information from open-source databases.
At first, Bot MD started as a chatbot on Facebook Messenger, a la Bus Uncle. When some doctors in the Philippines began giving feedback on it, the duo decided to develop it into an app.
So far, about 1,000 doctors in 57 countries have been using the app. Ms Koh said that many learned of Bot MD through word of mouth; it even went viral in Egypt after a doctor there wrote about his experience with it on his Facebook account.
While the app aims to help doctors in emerging economies, Ms Koh noted that many Singaporean doctors who travel around the region to help and support other centres can use it, too.
As Bot MD is still in its early stages, the founders said they are still training the AI to learn more, and it will grow more intelligent as more doctors use it.
They added an email function after a doctor in Venezuela gave feedback on that.
To date, Ms Koh and Mr Sim have raised about US$1.59 million (S$2.2 million) in seed funding from Y Combinator and other angel investors, including notable Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Blank.
Within the next two months, they hope to have the app up on the Apple app store, and eventually develop a web browser version of Bot MD.
Having hired three other full-time employees, they are now looking to bring pharmacists and clinicians on board to help with providing doctors with information on drugs.
To keep it sustainable, Ms Koh revealed that they will push out a "freemium" model in the future, where users can pay for extra features. However, the basic app will remain free.
They are also considering partnering with hospitals and institutions around the world that want to place their content on Bot MD. Ms Koh said that they are in talks with two Singapore hospitals, but declined to disclose more.
"We wanted to build something useful… the impact in healthcare is very tangible, and it's always a very meaningful thing," she added.