How San Francisco-based Augmedix uses AI and Google Glass to rehumanize clinician-patient interactions
In 2012, a group of new graduates were hanging out at a park near their alma mater, Stanford University. One of them, who had begun work at Google, brought out a hardware prototype called Glass. “Please don’t take pictures and don’t tell anyone or I will get fired,” he warned as he let his friends try on the spectacles for feedback.
The spectacles, connected to the internet or cloud, simultaneously displayed information on the glass lens as well as allowing the wearer to view the surroundings normally. “I am not giving these back to you,” was Ian Shakil’s immediate response after putting on the Glass. “These are amazing, have you ever thought about what doctors can do with this?” Shakil continued. It was no surprise that Shakil immediately saw the healthcare potential. As a biomedical engineering graduate, before moving onto an MBA at Stanford, Shakil was involved in the design and development of medical and healthcare devices for several years and was familiar with many of the pain points faced by fellow caregivers.
“Back then, the HITECH Act was spurring clinicians to adopt the electronic health records,” Shakil recalls “It was creating a huge burden on them as they have to spend hours every day typing, clicking, charting, feeding a ‘beast’ rather than paying attention to the patients sitting right in front or engaging in other meaningful tasks.”
Shakil immediately saw the potential benefits to the medical world and on the spot, sketched out the framework of his company. “I thought we can give doctors the Google Glass or a smartphone on stand or lanyard. We can live-stream each patient visit in a secure manner to a remotely-located scribe, who could note down the medically relevant information on whatever electronic health record system the clinicians are using.”
Unable to stop thinking about the potential of the product, Shakil quit his job and co-founded Augmedix with medical graduate Pelu Tran. Primarily, Augmedix operates under the mission to rehumanize doctor-patient relations by offering live clinical support for clinicians.
The software facilitates two-way communications between a scribe and a healthcare provider. The scribe will not only observe and capture conversations that take place during consultations and record them in the electronic health record system with the help of natural language processing, he or she also search for relevant information and provide them to the doctor.
Scribes are mostly recruited from India, Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. These “guardians from afar” as Shakil describes them, sit in a cockpit and make clinicians’ lives efficient by saving them 2-3 hours per day on documentation while increasing work-life satisfaction by more than 40%. “It sounds like magic but it’s achievable through the marriage of technology and humans,” says Shakil.
To date, Augmedix has worked with several large health systems including Sutter Health, Dignity Health and US Oncology and charges about $1800 per doctor per month for the service. It also went public last October after a reverse merge with Malo Holdings.
As of June 30, 2020, it has 510 clinicians using its service, a slight increase from 462 at the end of December. In total, the company brought in $14.11 million in revenue in 2019, up from $10.82 million in 2018. But it has also been operating in the red, reporting an $18.5 million net loss in 2019. This may be in part due to the cost of remote documentation services, which accounted for part of the company’s $10.86 million in general and administrative costs.
Nevertheless, Augmedix is planning to integrate machine learning into its note-building feature to automatically provide note suggestions to its remote documentation specialists. The company is also working with Zoom on a strategic integration to offer remote scribe services via streaming and without the need for additional logistics.
photo: flickr azugaldia