Technology continues to rework how patients will be treated. But while some of the most fascinating developments come thanks to the rise of A.I., some do nothing more than find a slightly better way to help doctors have productive discussions.
Where Doctors Discuss the Toughest Questions--Privately
When her father was told he had cancer in 2009, Nadine Housri--who was then a New York City-based intern and is now a doctor--reached out to top academic centers to figure out the best treatment. Those conversations made it clear to her that much medical information stays hidden--"knowledge that's basically trapped in experts' heads," she says, recalling a conference where a community doctor said that, should a cancer cure be discovered, he'd probably find out about it five years later.
Her brother Samir Housri, who'd been a software engineer, showed her discussion sites like Stack Overflow. But there was no medical equivalent--until 2014, when the siblings launched theMednet, a free digital platform where cancer docs can ask questions and receive answers about cancer from around 700 experts from the likes of the Mayo Clinic. Nearly half of all U.S.-based oncologists--more than 7,500--have registered on the platform, which also publicizes clinical trials and runs Q&As on sponsored topics. Y Combinator has backed it, and theMednet plans to expand its medical topics in 2019.
Patients are not identified in discussions, and the site has a rigorous policing process: Participants are vetted, and 21 moderators--all practicing oncologists--review what's posted to ensure that the discussions adhere to high standards. Previously, Samir says, "medicine didn't document these types of conversations." Or, as Scottsdale, Arizona-based oncologist Vershalee Shukla puts it, theMednet surfaces "a lot of trends happening in oncology--before the actual [research] comes out." --Michelle Cheng
Why a Visit to the Shrink Could Become a Relic
Alison Darcy, a clinical psychologist, set out to slay psychiatry's sacred cow: that two people in a room talking to each other is the only way to get someone help. Few have the money or desire to do full-on therapy. Most don't need it. What they need is in-the-moment guidance when they're stressed or depressed. Not a couch. A coach.
Enter Darcy's Woebot, an A.I.-driven chatbot that delivers cognitive behavioral therapy over mobile devices. CBT focuses on thoughts, teaching people to examine and reframe theirs. Her company launched in 2017, the year the World Health Organization said the world's leading cause of disability is depression. "There never have been enough clinicians," she says, adding, "About 38 percent of people with a diagnosis of depression will achieve sustained recovery from a lighter touch with CBT." Prior to starting the company, while working with people with eating disorders, Darcy realized that "removal of the body"--through digital interaction--can be "a huge advantage." Men seem more willing to open up without another human present: Roughly half of Woebot's users are male, to Darcy's surprise.
Woebot, which is free, has raised $8.1 million; eventually, users will pay for some services. Darcy won't reveal user numbers, but says Woebot receives between one million and two million messages a week. (Each session comprises multiple messages.)
"In an ideal world, you exercise every day," says Darcy. "Mental health is the new exercise. I would love to see Woebot be the thing that popularizes that." --Leigh Buchanan