Druze-Jewish startup taps phone calls to monitor speakers’ health

Haifa-based Healthymize has an AI-based app that listens to voice patterns in patients with COPD and other ailments

Healthymize's Dr. Shady Hassan (right) and Daniel Aronovich at the COPD conference in Chicago in July 2017 (Courtesy)
Healthymize's Dr. Shady Hassan (right) and Daniel Aronovich at the COPD conference in Chicago in July 2017 (Courtesy)

Sometimes having somebody listening in on your phone calls isn’t a bad thing — it can even save your life.

Haifa-based startup Healthymize has developed a fully automated, cloud-hosted, artificial intelligence-based app technology to monitor voice patterns in patients affected by a range of health problems, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart failure and mental diseases. The technology, which has already nabbed first prize in a connected-health startup contest, is now set to undergo trials internationally. The story of its birth is an example of the kind of synergy the Israeli startup scene is capable of creating.

Healthymize founders Dr. Shady Hassan and Daniel Aronovich met at a 2015 hackathon at Technion — Israel Institute of Technology. Although both were alumni, the paths that had taken them there were very different. Hassan – born and raised in the Druze village of Julis in the Northern District – was an attending physician at Carmel Hospital. Aronovich – whose USSR-born family immigrated to Israel in 1990 — was a PhD student in electrical engineering who had worked at Microsoft and was a team leader in algorithm development in an IDF unit. Hassan and Aronovich’s first encounter led to a brainstorming session, which they say gave birth to Healthymize.

Dr. Shady Hassan (left) and Daniel Aronovich at the offices of Healthymize in Haifa (Courtesy)

CEO Hassan says he had noticed that for certain voice-affecting diseases — e.g., COPD — symptoms and voice patterns were connected, with patients’ voices improving as they received treatment. The core idea for Healthymize came from this. Healthymize monitors incoming and outgoing calls for patients who choose to use it, detecting anomalies and signs of a possible flareup “so we can alert the patients, their families and the medical team,” said Hassan.

Shortly after giving birth to Healthymize, Hassan and CTO Aronovich met Rafi Gidron, a serial technological entrepreneur and founder of a number of startups. Gidron helped secure funding, and joined as active chairman. The company has benefited from funding from the Israel Innovation Authority, recently secured a lead investor on a major seed grant, and is looking for additional  backers, Hassan said.

While Healthymize has potential usages across a variety of medical conditions, it has encountered greatest interest among medical professionals specializing in the treatment of the respiratory condition known as COPD, Hassan said. The Israeli startup has met with leading specialists while developing the technology, and held a presentation at a conference of the COPD Foundation in July in Chicago.

“They were all excited, and offered their collaboration,” Hassan said. “They teach their students to listen to the voice,” he added, going on to explain that when doctors treating COPD receive emails from patients complaining of symptoms, they call them back to get a sense of the patient’s condition from their speaking patterns. Healthymize seeks to bring technology to this process.

“It’s 100 percent automated, based on artificial intelligence,” said Aronovich.

Global equity funding to private digital health startups rose for the seventh year in 2016, reaching a high of $6.1 billion from $5.9 billion in 2015 and just $537 million in 2009, according to New York based data firm CB Insights. While the large majority of rounds went to early-stage, seed and Series A companies, a few more mature companies also raised some mega-rounds globally.

Patients with the Healthymize app have their conversations monitored, and the results of the analysis are uploaded to the cloud platform. If something is wrong, Healthymize is the first to know, and that can be crucial, Hassan said.

“COPD patients don’t go to their physician when their symptoms begin, most wait four days or more,” said Hassan. “Even a 24-hour delay will double the risk of hospitalization.”

“We’re going to prevent many of these hospitalizations,” he said.

Healthymize appears to be picking up steam. In September, it was named winner of mHealth — the largest connected health community in the Middle East — in  Israel’s connected health startup contest. Hassan says its system will soon be deployed in the US, monitoring 100 patients for six months.

Aronovich, looking at the growth of voice-based technologies like Amazon Echo and Google Home, said the future of Healthymize goes beyond smartphones.

“Our vision is to have our technology installed not just on smartphones, but on any device that people and patients interact with.”

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