Doctor

A Franklin tech startup in the healthcare continuum is marketing a novel platform to streamline cancer diagnostics in real time.

The new platform — a product from local firm, Azra Al — is the company’s proprietary software utilizing artificial intelligence to consolidate and take over the manual and repetitive processes whereby positive cancer diagnoses are identified and then typically classified by the primary care site before patients are routed to cancer navigators and tertiary staff. The platform centralizes all these processes in one place as its core functions.

Azra Al is marketing the product as a way to facilitate the cancer care journey with the understanding that cancer diagnoses are often different from any other in that they lead to unique, long-term care experiences involving rapidly developed action plans that lead to regular doctor appointments, treatment options and support outlets.

In its first year of implementation, the platform saved hospital staff innumerable work hours by combing through CT scan results at high speed and with great accuracy according to Michelle Marshall, system vice president of business development and strategy at Inspira Health, a health system based in New Jersey.

"Their AI component has allowed us to identify and connect with patients who have incidental pulmonary nodules and were likely not aware," she said. "This information is provided in real time and gives us the potential to find lung cancer earlier, when it's easier to treat.”

The platform is also being branded as a patient-retention tool within the oncology space because it centralizes that pipeline. Moreover, Azra Al says this will expedite treatment, increase navigator time with each individual patient. Automation is also expected to dramatically improve the fiscal performance of healthcare operations with measurable financial gains.

This comes amid increased attention to hospitals reporting patient retention challenges due to unknowably high costs exacerbated by the separate issue of pandemic-related financial hardships. Earlier this month, Angie Franks — CEO of ABOUT Healthcare, a Minnesota tech and consulting firm in the industry — said in no uncertain terms that “every single health system” is hemorrhaging patients now. Her firm’s latest annual report surveyed 138 healthcare executives and found 94 percent of them reporting the loss of patients as their primary focus this year.

Azra Al’s product is already in use for Hospital Corporations of America, the country’s biggest for-profit health system. The company has found its product to mitigate the time it takes to transition from diagnosis to treatment by a full week regardless of which type of cancer is detected. The platform is also supposed to improve patient retention by 75 percent while raising revenues by 10 percent in the first 14 months of its implementation.

“Now that we know the denominator, or the number of diagnosed patients per year, we can size the programs, including nurse navigators, and needs for the system,” said Dr. Richard Geer.

Geer is the physician-in-chief of surgical oncology at Hospital Corporations of America.

"In one of our markets, we have really good systems for pancreatic surgeons. We can now look at every diagnosis across the region and make the program really work and get patients to where they need to be – the right patient, the right treatment and at the right time."

Healthcare leaders have reportedly found the platform to work better and faster than conventional methods. According to a press release, a recent analysis of one health systems records using the new tool found that it identified 99 percent of positive cancer cases in pathology reports that had previously been manually reviewed by healthcare staff.

Relatedly, The Atlantic reported late last year that about 20 percent of healthcare workers left their jobs, which is difficult to attribute to the pandemic, the so-called “Great Resignation” or any one particular factor. As such, the consideration for whether or not automation of this magnitude could threaten jobs at hospitals is countered by the possibility that it compensates for a reportedly growing worker shortage.

"We are already helping thousands of cancer patients and clinicians everyday with our AI-enhanced intelligent workflows," said Azra AI CEO Chris Cashwell. "With the crisis in nurse staffing and uncertainty of post-COVID cancer patient volumes, our technology can be a lifeline to clinicians and a life saver for patients. From finding incidental lung nodules to reducing time to treatment, providers are having a profound impact using our technology."

Funding from both FCA Venture Partners and Sopris Capital also enabled Azra Al to acquire the healthcare assets of the company formerly known as Digital Reasoning. The acquisition allows Azra Al to expand and accelerate the proliferation of its cutting-edge oncology solutions across other healthcare service lines.