The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has recently concluded their pitch competition, naming Buoy Health’s patient health education chatbot the AI challenge winner and addiction support platform Sober Grid the Opioid Challenge winner. The competitors were awarded with a $50,000 grand prize for winning their respective competitions after being ruled to have the greatest potential impact, creativity, intuitiveness, and potential for adoption.
In the AI challenge, Buoy Health CEO Dr. Andrew Le pitched his company’s text-trained machine learning program as a more efficient tool for patients who often Google their symptoms. The system references a database consisting of thousands of medical records to provide users with an estimation of what condition they may be suffering from and whether they should pursue further care. The tool can be accessed via the iPhone app store and was created by a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School. The application surveys the user on several symptoms in a chatbot format to ultimately provide several potential diagnoses along with recommended care actions. Buoy Health also raised $6.7 million in 2017 to invest into research and recruitment.
“The interview is dynamic and always adjusting to the questions you are answering. It’s a severe departure from symptom checkers that use very simple decision trees,” said Le in his pitch. “After about two or three minutes we narrow the diagnoses down to three reasons for and against that match… and then ultimately, with our partners — employers, payers, and providers — show exactly what services exist for that particular triage.”
The opioid challenge winner is another smartphone app system, allowing users with prior or continuing substance abuse issues to contact a community of peers for support. Sober Grid seeks to transcend simply being a social network with its addition of features that help the user manage their addiction, including a location-based treatment tool, AI notifications to loved ones if risk of relapse is detected, and automated notifications from certified peer coaches. The app even contains a “burning desire” button, which users can press in times of strong drug cravings to notify the social media-linked sober community when support is needed.
“We are in the midst of an epidemic in the US. We are losing a generation to this,” said Sober Grid CEO Chris Pesce during his pitch. “Effective treatment exists — treatments such as medication-assisted treatment and social and behavior interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, and narcotics anonymous… but there are challenges to connecting individuals to care due to barriers such as lack of access, transportation, childcare, cost, and stigma that prevent individuals from reaching out for help. We built Sober Grid to address these challenges.”