Canadian digital health company NextUp Care is focusing on automating healthcare appointments, specifically for booking advanced medical imaging services such as MRI, CT scans, and nuclear medicine. Through its cloud-based AI algorithms, NextUp Care allows healthcare providers to streamline their booking process and increase the utilization of -their imaging equipment. As for patients, the algorithms help them book appointments quickly and minimize the wait time for imaging services.
In an interview with DIGITIMES Asia, NextUp Care Founder and CEO Wayne Li stated that the company is "automating healthcare, one appointment at a time." Through the Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA) program, the company is exploring Asia for the very first time to see if there is demand for its technology.
NextUp Care was founded in 2015 and is based out of Ontario, Canada. The company recently completed a hospital pilot and is working with a large Toronto hospital to implement its Intelligent Patient Scheduling Platform to automate ultrasound appointments. The company is currently speaking to investors and other organizations to explore series A funding in 2023.
NextUp care has elected to focus on scheduling automation because the company has identified that this is a growing market. According to Li, the global demand for medical imaging services like MRI and CT scans has seen a 7% YoY increase, mainly due to an aging population and wider adoption of advanced imaging.
Because imaging equipment is expensive, there is pressure on healthcare providers to optimize their resources and "do more with less." However, the current method of scheduling appointments is done manually. Booking teams are spending most of their time on the phone confirming and changing appointments with physicians and patients. This time-consuming process also means that patients must deal with long waiting times.
NextUp Care believes that an algorithmic approach is not only faster/fairer but also more efficient than the current manual methods. Li stated that NextUp Care's platform allows healthcare providers to digitize, automate and optimize their scheduling process. When operational, the algorithms can simultaneously maximize the utilization of imaging equipment and minimize wait times for patients, booking a patient in as little as 30 seconds.
Another benefit of this platform is that the algorithms can proactively attempt to reschedule patients who've been waiting a long time. This is something that's not possible with the current manual approach, as it's simply too labor-intensive to follow up with thousands of booked patients to try to give them an earlier time slot. With the algorithms, this can all be done automatically in seconds.
Li mentioned that they've also collaborated with the University of Toronto's Center for Healthcare Engineering to validate its models. The company recently completed a hospital pilot. Using the algorithms, the medical imaging department saw a 54% reduction in operating costs and saved over 3000 hours/year by automating MRI scheduling. NextUp Care received positive feedback from the staff and patients who participated in the pilot on the ease of use of the platform.
Implementation in hospitals
Developing this platform required NextUp Care to access information from many hospitals. When asked how they did that, Li stated that they've partnered with several provincial and federal agencies, which helped facilitate the introductions to hospitals.
With the platform being entirely cloud-based, there's no need for physical hardware. As for costs, healthcare providers pay a one-time implementation fee and a tiered subscription based on the volume of appointments managed on the platform. Hospitals also don't have to change how they engage their patients, whether it's via SMS or email, as the platform can adjust accordingly. As for patients, this service is entirely free to use.
Li also addressed the possible privacy concerns that may come with information sharing. He stated that the algorithms use minimal personal health information. Also, the platform can easily identify and mask personal information, minimizing exposure to private information.
In the short term, NextUp Care aims to expand its platform beyond just diagnostic imaging services. It wants to bring automation to other services in healthcare such as staff scheduling and patient transport. In the long term, it wants to build a global business and use its technology to help hospitals and clinics lower their operational costs and improve access to healthcare for caregivers and patients.
Photo: NextUp Care founder and CEO Wayne Li.
Credit: NextUp Care