San Francisco startup Sense.ly has raised $8 million in a Series B round of venture funding to bring its virtual nurse technology to clinics and patients of every kind. The company’s app helps physicians stay in touch with patients, and prevent readmission to the hospital. Chief Executive Officer and founder of Sense.ly, Adam Odessky describes the platform as “A cross between Whatsapp and Siri that captures all the important signals about a person’s health.”
On the patient side, Sense.ly asks users to tell a nurse avatar how they’re doing with 5-minute “check ins” either once a day, or every few days, on their smartphones. Patients can simply talk to the app, no typing required. What they share through check-ins is rolled up into a medical record that only authorized health providers can review. The reports also include data that Sensely pulls in from a range of medical devices, wearables and other internet-connected hardware that patients use in their daily lives.
Sense.ly integrates artificial intelligence from the likes of MindMeld, Beyond Verbal, Affectiva and others to enable its platform to respond to a patient’s mood, not just their symptoms and behavior. The app speaks with patients empathetically. When they have serious concerns about managing their heart health, or diabetes, for example, Odessky said you don’t want patients hearing a chilly, robotic response or one that feels commercial. Conducting emotional analysis also helps Sense.ly alert health care providers when their patients may need mental health counseling, or are experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety as a side effect of certain prescribed medications or lifestyle changes.
To make the app work for people in different age groups and dealing with different health issues, Sense.ly has written its core, rule-based engine and algorithms around commonly accepted medical protocols for diagnosing and dealing with chronic diseases. The company is always layering in more protocols and content, usually from partner-hospitals and clinics, to expand to cover different health issues and populations.
To-date, the company has focused on engaging patients who are 60 and older and grappling with issues like: COPD, heart failure, diabetes and other age-associated health problems. But Sense.ly has been expanding, to work with massive health providers including the National Health Service of the UK, and several major clinics and hospitals in the US. Sensely competes with other startups building AI medical assistants, such as HealthLoop, Your.md and Babylon Health.
Investors in Sense.ly’s Series B round included the Mayo Clinic, Chengwei Capital which led the round, Bioved Ventures, Fenox Venture Capital and the Stanford StartX fund. Chengwei Capital Managing Director Richard Gu tells TechCrunch that his firm only invests in startups that have a “China play,” meaning their apps could serve massive markets there, or their technology could be manufactured in China.
The investor said, “We may help them find key partners in this region to expand here. But we want to see them use the funding to invest in core research and development.” Gu said he believes that Sense.ly’s technology has the potential to help people live longer, better lives and stay independent at home for longer than they might today. Odessky said given the medical talent shortage plaguing the US and other markets, Sense.ly also has the potential to make quality healthcare more affordable and available.
Will the virtual nurse “steal” jobs from human nurses, though? Odessky says no. “There aren’t people doing this job already. You couldn’t possibly have humans do this amount of phone calls and data analysis. This is a technology to help medical professionals do their jobs more effectively, and not one that threatens their livelihood.”