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Digital Diagnostics: Utilizing AI for Healthcare Diagnoses

Digital Diagnostics is a healthcare company which sells two software products that use autonomous AI to diagnose patients. Michael Abramoff, MD, PhD founded Digital Diagnostics (formerly known as IDx) in 2010, and the autonomous AI software was FDA approved in 2018. Their initial product. 

The IDx-DR, uses fundus (inside back surface of the eye) camera images to diagnose diabetic patients with diabetic retinopathy and macular edema at their point-of-care. Vision loss is a major concern for diabetics, and the product has made healthcare and blindness prevention more accessible, affordable, and convenient by making diagnoses possible at primary care facilities without the need for an eyecare specialist. They also offer a dermatology tool that allows primary care providers and patients to send e-consults to dermatologists.

On May 27, 2022, Digital Diagnostics finished its most recent round of venture funding. They raised $46.3 million. The number of investors and lead investor are undisclosed. Their total funding is now at $98.4 million over six rounds. The four disclosed investors are 8VC, Optum Ventures, Alpha Edison, and Heritage Provider Network, with 8VC leading their last round in 2018. 8VC is a Bay Area venture capitalist group that focuses on smart, but value based investments, with many of them being in other healthcare startups. They see investing in entrepreneurship as a primary way of increasing global prosperity. Some of their notable past investments include Deliverr, Guardant Health, and Acutus Medical.

They are the only company to have their diagnostic software approved by the FDA without the guidance of a medical practitioner, which positions them as the leader in the industry for providing automated diagnosis to patients. The company’s service is important because before IDx-Dr, primary care facilities were not equipped with the expertise of eyecare specialists to make diagnoses on diabetic patients who might be developing diabetic retinopathy or macular edema. Many diabetics who began to experience vision loss would only start to get treated after symptoms began to appear, which was too late to have the condition treated. Digital Diagnostics democratizes the process and makes the process of getting screened for these conditions more accessible. 

The company also offers software designed to make skin health care more accessible. Digital Diagnostics created the DermTriage tool as a way for primary care providers and patients to increase accessibility to dermatologists. Patients can electronically submit their own photos using ImageAssist to their dermatologist. Dermspot (formerly 3Derm – which Digital Diagnostics has acquired) uses an AI algorithm to analyze skin imaging to autonomously detect melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma. They acquired 3Derm in August,  2020. The products are designed to bridge the gaps between patient, primary care providers, and specialists.

Dr. Abramoff, the founder, has an interdisciplinary background in medicine as an ophthalmologist and retina specialist, as well as in computer science with a PhD in Machine Learning. He has transitioned to the role of executive chairman in the company, and now serves as a joint faculty member at the University of Iowa in both the Carver School of Medicine as well as the College of engineering. 

Dr. Abramoff identified a problem in health care and sought to solve it using his computer science background. In a 2019 interview he said “You can have many complications with diabetes, but blindness is the one that people are most afraid of.” He noticed that many of his patients would wait too late before seeking specialist care to treat their diabetes related sight loss. He continued to say “to me, it seemed obvious to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to address this problem.” His broad background was crucial to his realization that autonomous AI diagnoses without the oversight of a person could make healthcare much more effective, affordable, and generally accessible. With that in mind, he designed his AI with ethical principles, with a focus on making the healthcare industry more equitable.

Digital Diagnostics is a well-established company that has a significant lead on competitors in that they have achieved government approval from the FDA, which is a crucial hurdle for most healthcare companies. They also operate internationally with clinics in the European Union also using IDx-DR. With their acquisition of 3Derm, they have also demonstrated their ability to expand the company laterally when it comes to what types of conditions they are capable of diagnosing autonomously. One challenge, which they are likely to address is that their software requires the use of a fundus camera, which is an expensive and niche piece of hardware that not all primary care providers have, so they might also be considering committing some of their funds towards hardware development that would make their software more accessible to clinics. 

The company is hopeful with the new round of funding, which has almost doubled their previous total funding amount, and has been their first announcement since 2018, when their AI software was first approved by the FDA. The company is experiencing a period of rapid growth and are adding a handful of jobs inside and outside of the Middle ecosystem with presences in the Iowa City, IA area, the Chicago, IL area, the Boston, MA area, and the Austin,TX area. Their work to grow automated healthcare is a big step for the industry and will allow for healthcare to become more affordable. 

For more information, check out their website https://digitaldiagnostics.com.

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