With FluChecker, a doctor in every house (virtually)

Brainy scan: A Hamptons-based surgeon is creating a line of AI-powered apps designed to help potential patients better understand their symptoms.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Chelsea Health Solutions was remotely diagnosing symptoms before remotely diagnosing symptoms was cool. Now, with a global pandemic spreading, it’s ready to rock.

Founded in New York City in 2017 by surgeon/entrepreneur Soumi Eachempati and multiple investor partners, including other healthcare professionals, the startup creates AI-powered mobile apps that serve as surrogate doctors, helping potential patients determine if they need to see a specialist, speed to the emergency room or simply monitor their symptoms.

The company (now based in Southampton, where Eachempati has made some key connections at The Spur) and its flagship product (GONOGO, smarter than your average symptom-checker) were originally conceived to address confusion in the ER.

Emergency room physicians “see so many patients who should not be there,” Eachempati noted, “and concurrently, so many patients who are there days or weeks too late.”

The bad timing ranges from patients “who have mild coughs and think they have the flu” to those who suffer heart attacks and wait two days to come in – even patients “who waited three months with abdominal pain and actually had pancreatic cancer,” the doctor noted.

Soumi Eachempati: Emergency room for improvement.

“There is an inappropriate triage of care in hospitals around the country,” Eachempati told Innovate LI. “Patients are running up unnecessary bills. And families and friends are always calling us to determine if they should go to the ER.

“So, we thought up the app,” he added, of himself and fellow doctors. “For everyone who doesn’t have a best-friend doctor to call.”

With Eachempati and friends sinking about $50,000 into software development, the GONOGO app soft-launched in 2017, using algorithms based on public-health recommendations and best medical practices.

Most importantly, GONOGO deploys an artificial intelligence engine that engages users based on their specific input, not a predetermined checklist – the smartest way to whittle down potential diagnoses and recommend smart action, according to Eachempati, who earned his MD From Northwestern University and worked 18 years as an attending physician at NYC’s Weill Cornell Medical College, filling critical positions including trauma surgery chief and director of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit.

“It asks a series of questions, very similar to what a doctor would ask over the phone,” he said. “It uses complex artificial intelligence to mimic the questions of a doctor.”

There’s the rub, according to the enterprising surgeon, who noted most digital symptom-checkers “are very linear-based,” limited to asking “prearranged” questions.

“Here the questions are algorithmically based, where each answer dictates the subsequent questions, instead of the symptoms dictating a series of predetermined questions,” Eachempati added. “Doctors cut to the chase because each of their questions is based on the previous answer, and this acts more like a doctor.”

First opinion: It doesn’t replace professional medical care, but GONOGO can help users make smarter decisions.

Chelsea Health Solutions has spent the last three years (and thousands of additional dollars) fine-tuning GONOGO – “extensive upgrades that make it a much more valuable product,” according to its primary creator.

But the startup’s focus shifted slightly – or perhaps its future came more into focus – in January, when Eachempati et al “first saw reports of China having a flu issue.”

The entrepreneur – who rounded out his decades of medical service with a stint as a research analyst for a Connecticut-based hedge fund, focused on healthcare companies – quickly recognized the rising tide, and shifted GONOGO’s gears accordingly.

The result: FluChecker, a spinoff app tailor-made for a global coronavirus pandemic, now available for free download on a mobile device near you.

“We essentially took out the flu section of GONOGO and upgraded it,” Eachempati said. “We use ongoing information from the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control] and the [U.S. Food & Drug Administration] and made it much more in-depth – and very valuable to patients now, who are concerned that they may have a serious flu or the COVID-19 infection.”

With new data swirling daily, FluChecker endlessly combs the Internet – the CDC, the FDA, other online coronavirus hubs – for “the newest information we can put into the app, to keep it the most current,” Eachempati noted.

And it brings to bear that same AI-powered Q&A protocol, helping potential patients better understand their situation.

That addresses Job No. 1: assessing symptoms properly, slowing the virus’ spread and otherwise helping users help themselves. It also creates a user base that plays into several possible monetization options, including future “freemium” models and a B2B-focused “Flu Checker Pro” that smartly anticipates a post-pandemic world.

Eachempati referenced a “modification of the app” currently underway, essentially creating “a checklist for businesses who are concerned about customers and employees coming back to work.”

“By documenting that the employees are healthy, it will make the employees feel safer in the workplace,” he added. “It will also let the community know that the business is not just putting people out there – this business cares about its employees and its community, and it’s taking the best available precautions to ensure it’s doing things safely.”

Monetizing is Chelsea Health Solutions’ endgame, of course, but offering GONOGO and FluChecker for free is an essential part of the plan. En route to launching Flu Checker Pro – possibly “within two weeks or so,” according to Eachempati – and building the B2B brand, the doctor is keen on reducing those emergency-room misfires and eager to help a nervous population get a grip on COVID-19.

“We don’t want to be perceived as gouging prices, but we do want to get it on the business community’s radar,” he said. “We think in the near term, the FluChecker app can become Flu Checker Pro, a true B2B brand.

“This isn’t going to be a two-week thing,” Eachempati added. “There could be intermittent outbreaks throughout the summer.

“And you can’t stop the American workplace from functioning for six months or longer.”

 

Chelsea Health Solutions LLC

What’s It? AI-powered apps to help potential patients smartly self-diagnose
Brought To You By: Soumi Eachempati, veteran trauma surgeon, rookie entrepreneur
All in: About $50,000 (Eachempati and friends) for initial software development, plus subsequent upgrade/maintenance investments
Status: Free patient models ready now, new B2B brand coming soon