Medwise.ai helps clinicians find Covid-19 answers using artificial intelligence
A Cambridge digital health start-up will help NHS professionals find the answers they need to questions about Covid-19 using an artificial intelligence-powered platform.
Medwise.ai has been awarded a £40,000 grant from Innovate UK to develop the platform, which enables clinicians to ask any question they want about the coronavirus and get an instant, concise answer sourced from national guidelines and academic journals.
A beta version of the technology, which uses natural language processing, has been launched for public testing. The service is free to NHS workers.
It is the brainchild of Dr Keith Tsui, who told the Cambridge Independent: “I trained and practised in Hong Kong, where I encountered the problem of having so much medical information that you couldn’t quickly access the right knowledge. As a clinician you have a lot of time pressure.”
After studying medicine in Hong Kong, and completing a Harvard Business School Online course, Dr Tsui came to Cambridge for a master’s in bioscience enterprise.
Experience at Aglaris in Stevenage, a role in management consultancy aiding NHS productivity and a stint as a product manager at remote patient monitoring digital health start-up Huma followed, before Medwise.ai was established.
“The reason I started the company is I realised that in the last few years AI and natural language processing have improved a lot,” said Dr Tsui.
“I spoke to more than 20 people in the AI space to understand whether the technology is out there to solve the problem I’ve always wanted to solve.”
Dr Tsui met Daniel Duma, who has a PhD in natural language processing and a special interest in biomedical fields, and Medwise.ai was officially founded when he joined last December.
“When the pandemic happened, we relatively quickly decided to dedicate our resources and tailor our platform,” said Dr Tsui. “We are super grateful and fortunate to be awarded the Innovate UK fast grant to further develop the platform specifically for Covid-19.
“We participated in a hackathon with MedTech Foundation, an NHIR initiative, and we brainstormed with others how we could solve this information challenge with Covid-19, because the number of publications and studies is increasing exponentially.
“It’s a big challenge for a clinician to keep up with the information and the quality of the information is also highly varied because of how quickly these publications are coming out. They may not be going through the peer review process in the same way as previously.
“We tried to understand the exact problem, starting with the needs of the clinician and then building out our current platform using a question answering approach.”
The platform will not simply present a PDF or link to clinicians, but find the answer they need.
“I wanted to make it easier and quicker for those working in the NHS to get the information they need and take out the strain of searching through intranet PDFs or calling their seniors at midnight when information is needed urgently.
“We streamline the process and directly extract the sentence or paragraph that answers the question,” explains Dr Tsui.
“Having talked to clinicians we understood that the research is not the first point of information. They usually go to national guidelines, such as from NICE, Public Health England or NHS England, so we prioritise them first. We also use some of the more summarised information, such as from BMJ best practice, so it’s easier for the clinicians to read at the point of care, rather than research that would take more time.
“Once we’ve collected the data and curated the questions people are submitting, we’ll be able to find if they are very specific questions that current guidelines do not necessarily answer, then we will do a deep drill into academic articles to answer those questions.
“The platform can now answer quite a wide range of questions for primary care, secondary care and critical care.”
Using the money from Innovate UK –which is part of UK Research and Innovation – Medwise.ai will build in community features, enabling clinicians to discuss and share knowledge. They will also be able to upvote or downvote answers, which will offer the company feedback to optimise the system.
“You can ask what PPE you should wear and it can give you the advice that Public Health England has been giving, but there will be use cases that are very specific that the guidelines do not cover. The community feature that we are planning to build will allow clinicians to discuss and share knowledge,” says Dr Tsui.
The venture is supported by Eastern AHSN (Academic Health Science Network) - which is a prize partner in the Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards - and Accelerate Cambridge.
Eastern AHSN’s chief clinical officer Jag Ahluwalia, a highly experienced consultant who is also a non-executive director at Royal Papworth Hospital, is helping the company.
“He has been very helpful in providing us feedback through his network,” says Dr Tsui.
The company is also part of DigitalHealth.London’s Launchpad programme, which will help garner further practical feedback.
But how, given the volume of content surrounding Covid-19, can the platform itself be kept up to date?
“Right now, some sources have to be manually curated or updated, but part of the Innovation UK grant is to allow us to start to automate some of those processes For example, we are in discussions with the BMJ and will be building tools to automate some of the NICE guidelines,” explains Dr Tsui.
Within two months, he hopes the system will be compatible with NHS computers. It will also be available for use on mobile phones.
“We’ll launch with NHS partners and get feedback on what improvements we can make and the community features that are useful,” says Dr Tsui.
So far, the beta version has helped answer more than 600 queries about treating Covid-19 patients effectively and safely. Longer-term, the platform’s technology can be adapted for other areas of healthcare.
Medwise.ai is also supported by healthtech specialist Mindwave Ventures, Oxford investment and mentoring company Panacea Star and European consortium EIT Health.