After acquiring a local startup that has developed an artificial intelligence system for medical triage, Montreal-based telemedicine company Dialogue is now preparing to use that technology in one of the city’s largest hospital networks.
Starting in a few weeks, Dialogue’s artificial intelligence triage program will start being used at the CHUM emergency room as part of pilot project.
That technology was developed by Montreal-based DXA Technologies, a startup founded by three Montreal-based emergency room physicians and an orthopedic surgeon from Seattle. Dialogue completed the acquisition of the company on Nov. 9.
Dialogue has already been using the DXA technology through its own app, sold to companies who offer its triage and telemedicine services to their employees and families. Either online of via the app, the patient interacts with a chat-based AI-driven triage system, answering a series of questions designed to identify red flags and signs of serious conditions, said Cherif Habib, Dialogue’s co-founder and CEO.
“At the end it outputs a medical history that is in the same format as what a physician would write up after examining a patient,” he said. The system also gives the patient a score on the Canadian Triage Acuity Scale, which is widely used in emergency departments. That scale ranks the seriousness of a patient’s condition from 5: Non-urgent to 1: See patient immediately.
The system can then put the patient into a video chat with a nurse, nurse practitioner or physician depending on their condition. At times, Habib said, the system has identified more serious conditions and in one case, Dialogue has called an ambulance to a patient’s home.
“We’re really trying to orient patients to the right place so we can use resources effectively,” Habib said.
By using artificial intelligence, he also hopes to help medical professionals work more efficiently. When a patient using the system speaks to a physician, he said, “that physician now has a pre-written chart and history. It saves them a lot of time.”
Behind the technology is a lot of research, Habib said.
“Essentially, the DXA team did the heavy lifting of reading 16,000 medical articles and encoding the findings of those articles in an algorithm that essentially follows the recommendations or the findings of those articles,” Habib said. “What we’re doing now is augmenting this engine with AI, which essentially means we’re giving it the ability to learn and improve itself on its own.
For Dialogue, the upcoming pilot project could be a first step to a new line of business. Habib said he hopes to start working with more hospitals and clinics in the future.
While the CHUM pilot project uses the DXA technology on its own, Dialogue will continue using it in its main product, the telemedicine app now sold to more than 200 companies across Canada.
Habib said that as competition for talent heats up, employers are looking to provide an additional level of health benefits to their workers. There are other advantages for employers, he said. By allowing their employers to see a doctor sooner through an app, they miss less time at work because they’re waiting at a clinic.
“If you catch things early and you don’t allow things to get out of proportion or out of control because the employee doesn’t have time to go to the doctor,” he said, “then over the long-term, you’re saving money.”
Physicians and, depending on the province, nurse practitioners on the platform can diagnose any condition that doesn’t require a physical exam. That’s around 70 per cent of primary care cases, Habib said. In other cases, Dialogue employees can help patients book an appointment with a specialist or direct patients to a nearby clinic.
But while Dialogue wants to expand the use of AI in the medical system, Habib said he doesn’t see AI replacing doctors any time soon.
“You always need a human who stays in the loop to catch mistakes, because mistakes will happen and do happen, but also because of the human touch and human intuition,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the levels on the Canadian Triage Acuity Scale. The Gazette regrets the error.
This article originally appeared in The Province