When Dr. Andrew Le was in his last year of medical school, he saw how often patients would “Google” their symptoms online. Using websites like WebMD can be a messy, confusing affair, so he thought, what about making something that could replicate the experience of having a conversation with a doctor?
For Le, the answer to that question is a chatbot, which is the foundation of Buoy Health, his Boston-based digital health startup that just closed a $6.7 million Series A round led by F-Prime Capital and an undisclosed strategic investor in the healthcare payer space. Others participating in the round included FundRx and angel investor Jack Connors.
“If you really think about what we’re doing, we’re empowering patients to make great health care decisions.”
Since Buoy’s conversational symptom checker launched in March, the chatbot has attracted 8,000 new visitors a day, leading to 38 percent weekly increases in traffic and bringing the total number of visitors to over 300,000, Le told BostInno in an interview. To ensure its accuracy, he said Buoy went through a clinical trial with 500 patients in urgent care and found that Buoy agreed with the doctor’s diagnosis 90.9 percent of the time.
Buoy uses a machine learning algorithm backed by data from over 18,000 clinical papers — which Le said he and his team read by hand to understand the relationship between symptoms, risk factors and diagnoses. When you go on its website, Buoy starts by asking for basic information about age and gender and then asks what kind of symptoms you’re having — Le said Buoy’s database has 30,000 possible questions. Based on your answers, Buoy will start asking more specific questions, including ones that are possibly related to your condition (for instance, if you say you’ve been coughing a lot, it will ask if you have a fever or feel fatigue). Once Buoy makes a diagnosis, the chatbot can connect you to a healthcare provider and surface your information to payers to help you make a cost-effective decision for your health.
“If you really think about what we’re doing, we’re empowering patients to make great healthcare decisions,” Le said.
Buoy is free to use for consumers, which Le said will never change. The way Buoy plans to make money is by providing a white label version of its chatbot to healthcare providers and other players in healthcare, like payers. Le said the company is currently working with three customers that he couldn’t mention by name: a healthcare system, the payer that co-led Buoy’s Series A and a healthcare vendor working with self-insured employers.
The 10-employee team plans to use the new financing round, which brings total funding to $9.2 million, to hire clinical researchers, engineers and marketers, as well as expand its integrations with healthcare providers and payers. It also plans to set up a new medical board that will be supplied by physicians from FundRx.