Coronavirus halted startup plans of these MBBS batchmates, so they decided to fight it

Dr Satish Jeevannavar and Dr Radhakrishna Jamagadni, the 1994-99 MBBS batchmates of Karnataka University, have developed a pre-screening tool and Triage tool for COVID-19 testing, as part of their Bengaluru-based healthtech startup AI Highway's product offerings.

The healthcare industry has been largely focused on hospital-based delivery ecosystems. It is well-served by the existing healthcare technology applications developed solely for the hospital-based ecosystem comprising medical devices, hospital information systems, apps, and IoT, among others

Dr. Satish (L) and Dr. Radhakrishna (R)

However, healthcare and hospital care are not the same. The latter actually refers to catering to the sick, where the patients arrive only after the damage is done.

Bengaluru-based healthtech startup AI Highway targets the part of the spectrum that comes well before the damage could even happen. This includes screening, detecting, and predicting the disease before it attacks the human body.

Dr Satish Jeevannavar, also an army major, tells YourStory,

"Our objective is around building healthcare infrastructure on a fundamental level, tapping into the point of contact between a doctor and a patient, at primary care or a community clinic."

The startup’s core belief is to build a 'highway' that leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning to better connect with the existing hospital ecosystem, which would lead to a more meaningful impact in screening, detection, and prediction of diseases.

To help combat the coronavirus outbreak, the startup has developed an online tool for pre-screening and a Triage tool for use at home, that constantly monitors patients.

The back story

AI Highway was founded in September 2019 in Bengaluru. It is now a part of the Society for Innovation and Development (SID), a prominent deeptech incubator at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).

The team is small — two co-founders and two employees, one part-time and one full-time. Satish says he has a large network of advisors and mentors from Maine Institute of Technology, USA, Sound Hub in Denmark and IISc Bengaluru, who are early backers of the concept.

Since its inception, Dr Satish Jeevannavar and Dr Radhakrishna Jamagadni have been working out of Bengaluru and Maine, US respectively. The two met as classmates while pursuing MBBS from Karnataka University, class of 1999. Later, Satish joined the Indian Army while Radhakrishna moved to the US.

However, they continued to stay in touch looking for ways to work together to solve some tough problems in Indian healthcare.

Being bootstrapped for the first 18 months of operation, the startup received its initial research grant from Maine Technology Institute, along with some support from friends and family. With these funds, the doctors developed a prototype for their first product, AiSteth.

AiSteth is a smart stethoscope to screen, detect, and predict heart disorders. While being incubated at the SID in IISC Bengaluru, the team hit a dead-end when the COVID-19 crisis began to unfold. The institute campus was shut down and the founders were forced to work from home.

How does the tool work?

The COVID-19 Triage tool developed by AI Highway facilitates a dynamic risk-assessment based on the evolving scientific evidence that is emerging on a daily basis. Sequential triage or screening is carried out on days 0, 3, 7, 14 and so on, to help strengthen the norm of social distancing and monitoring the status of the virus infection, at home. This is in contrast to the other numerous tools that work on one-time screening while checking the systems.

Satish says the tool is based on pin codes, and hence it helps with tracing the physical contact history of an infected patient. Subsequently, heat maps are generated with the risk levels categorised into low, mid and high.

The risk-assessment scores for COVID-19, are directly linked with clinical symptoms, co-morbidities and contact history. The tool is kept dynamic, to capture current and updated scientific evidence-based publications and guidelines, published by leading journals, World Health Organisation (WHO), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

At present, the startup is actively looking to collaborate with state and central government helplines, policy makers, insurance companies, hospitals, labs, and diagnostic partners, who can use the Triage tool by just integrating the native APIs with corresponding service offerings.

(Edited by Apoorva Pooranik)