Rafael Figueroa, CEO, Portal Telemedicine
It is still the wee hours of the morning. A lone medical practitioner in the Amazon rainforest is at his wit’s end trying to treat a patient experiencing chest pain. Under normal circumstances, a cardiologist can prescribe Electrocardiogram (ECG), X-ray, CT Scan, and some other tests to diagnose the reasons before starting treatment. But in the medical deserts such as the Amazon rainforest, where medical facilities and specialists are still a far cry, the patient has to wait for hours or even days to receive care—precious time lost for someone in a critical condition.
The healthcare industry is marred with several such challenges. According to WHO, at least half of the world’s population in rural and remote areas still don’t have access to essential healthcare services. On an equal note, the urban healthcare system is also riddled with inefficiencies, including disparate systems and time-consuming manual procedures, which not only reduces medical practitioners’ productivity but also increases the medical bills for patients to a large extent.
A Brazilian healthtech company, Portal Telemedicine is breaking these barriers in the healthcare industry with its AI-assisted revolutionary tele-diagnostics platform that connects the best specialty physicians to clinics and hospitals, even those in remote locations, delivering diagnostics in a few minutes and at an affordable price. With the help of Google Cloud Platform (GCP), the company connects more than 2000 of its in-house doctors across specialties, including cardiologists, neurologists, urologists, and others, to provide tele diagnostics to patients in the remotest corners in minutes. “Our technology integrates with local medical devices and sends that information to specialists thousands of kilometers away for diagnostics, enabling patients to receive quality care,” states Rafael Figueroa, CEO of Portal Telemedicine.
The company was founded in 2013 with a noble goal of making global access to healthcare more equitable, convenient, safe, and affordable through a proprietary telehealth platform. To that end, lack of interoperability between medical devices and healthcare systems was the most significant pain point that created silos of data, hindering the adoption of tele diagnostics solutions. Hence, the company developed drivers and data handlers to extract information directly from proprietary medical devices, which is sent to the doctors automatically without any manual intervention. The interoperability between devices speeds up the diagnostics process as well as mitigates any chances of error in the data. After eight years of doing integrations, the company now covers 90 percent of medical devices, irrespective of brands and models. “We help more than 700 clients— hospitals, clinics, and labs—to serve thousands of patients daily in more than 300 cities across Brazil and Africa,” informs Figueroa.
Once Portal efficiently achieved interoperability between medical devices, the company switched its focus toward integrating electronic health records by partnering with GCP. Upon taking the patient’s consent, the company aggregates their past medical records—lab tests, disease and drug history—and delivers it to the doctors to improve and expedite the diagnostic process during the video consultation.
We help more than 700 clients— hospitals, clinics, and labs— serve thousands of patients daily in more than 300 cities across Brazil and Africa
Further, to avoid discrepancies in the documentation such as duplicacy, Portal Telemedicine developed a series of algorithms called master patient index that uses many parameters, including last name, father’s name, mother’s name and many other criteria to create a unique ID for the patients. Figueroa explains, “The goal of our initiative is to create a network, where the doctors, while performing telemedicine with a patient, can access all the different data, such as the diagnostic imaging, the public health care data, previous lab tests, EHR and others.” More importantly, the AI and machine learning models also offer decision trees to the doctors that enhance their productivity more than ten times, which helps them cater to more patients.
With a plethora of collated patient data, the machine learning models can also prioritize emergencies with more than 90 percent accuracy, allowing patients to receive critical care immediately. Another benefit of the AI-based model is that it works hand-in-hand with the doctors and detects even the minutest inconsistency in the patients’ data, such as very early-stage cancer, which often escapes the human eye. “Every time a doctor’s diagnosis disagrees with the AI suggestion, the system talks to three other doctors and creates a consensus within the board, eliminating any chances of human errors,” informs Figueroa.
Last year, United Healthcare Group, one of Brazil’s largest healthcare companies, signed a contract with Portal to integrate the databases in all hospitals that they have across Latin America to create a unique view of their patients across all the various facilities. More than 200 other corporate enterprises have also implemented the tele diagnostics platform of Portal Telemedicine to keep their employees healthy with preventive healthcare, wellness, and engagement programs.
Along with private healthcare, the company has also ventured into public healthcare to serve more patients with its path-breaking solutions. Figueroa shares the success story of Tarumã, a Brazilian County located in the western region of the state of São Paulo with an estimated population of 15,183 inhabitants in 2020. The County wanted to improve its position in the Human Development Index (HDI) from 488 to top 10. According to the mayor of Tarumã, Oscar Gozzi, 23.5 percent of deaths in the city were related to heart problems. Another concern in the region was chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), responsible for about 56.9 percent of deaths in Brazil in 2017, in 30 to 69 years. After implementing Portal Telemedicine’s solution, the County started to receive electrocardiogram reports within three minutes. Thus, with the patient still in the clinic, the medical protocols began gaining speed, decreasing the death rate significantly. “From August 2019 to August 2020, the number of deaths from NCDs in Tarumã decreased by 40 percent with our solution. Also, after implementing the technology, the death rate from acute myocardial infarction (AMI) in the city reduced to 22 percent,” informs Figueroa.
With the onset of the Coronavirus Pandemic, many healthcare institutions and professionals are rapidly adopting new telemedicine technologies to cater to patients while maintaining social distancing measures. The company trained one of its machine learning models to detect signs of COVID-19 in X-Ray and Tomography exams. With this technology, Portal helps accelerate the diagnostics (1 minute to get a result) with 95 percent accuracy. The company has partnerships in the U.S., Canada, and Europe and plans to launch its platform to enable physicians to provide diagnostics remotely as well as bring interoperability between medical facilities. “With our robust and mature technology solution, we are aiming to help more than one billion people receive quality healthcare,” concludes Figueroa.