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Munjal Shah, Hippocratic AI, and the Empathetic AI That Could Transform Health Care

munjal shah
Source: Munjal Shah

Jun. 12 2024, Published 3:00 a.m. ET

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Munjal Shah’s vision for the future of artificial intelligence and health care doesn't involve replacing human doctors and nurses, but rather using AI agents to work alongside them to enhance patient care. As the co-founder and CEO of Hippocratic AI, Shah is on a mission to develop services powered by large language models that can converse with patients in a warm, empathetic manner to handle a range of nondiagnostic tasks, from chronic care reminders to patient navigation.

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It's an ambitious goal, but Munjal Shah and his team have already made impressive strides. In February, Hippocratic AI announced beta test partnerships with over 40 providers, health systems, and digital health companies, including Memorial Hermann Health System, University of Vermont Health Network, Fraser Health, and Side Health. The company recently closed a $53 million Series A funding round, and it is valued at $500 million, with total funding at roughly $120 million, a notable achievement for a startup that's only been around for two years.

This latest round was led by Premji Invest and General Catalyst, with participation from big names like Andreessen Horowitz, highlighting the immense potential that investors see in Hippocratic AI’s approach, which involves using LLMs to mitigate widespread health care staffing shortages and provide more and better care at lower costs.

“Generative AI can help us create health care agents that will do nondiagnostic, low-risk tasks,” he explained in a recent interview as part of Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference. “They can call you before a colonoscopy and say, ‘Make sure you take that drink, make sure you stop your blood thinner.’ They can call you after a visit and say, ‘Did you get your antibiotic from the pharmacy?’

“We don’t realize how much time goes into these very low-risk, routine activities, and if we can just augment that, we can go a long way toward closing the staffing gap.”

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'Do No Harm'

Munjal Shah is quick to stress Hippocratic AI’s focus on safety and empathy as it designs its LLMs. Rather than rushing to market, the company has engaged in rigorous, multiphase testing, engaging with over 1,100 licensed nurses and 130 physicians to assess everything from medical accuracy to conversational appropriateness.

“To really ensure safety, we developed what we call a bottom-up testing process,” said Shah at GTC. “One of the things we realized was that there’s already a set of people that we trust: our nurses and doctors. What if we got 1,000 nurses to talk to the AI and we only shipped the AI to patients when they said it was safe?”

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“When we started the company, we prioritized safety as our top value,” said Shah in a recent statement announcing the funding round. “This is why we named the company after the physicians’ Hippocratic oath and made our tagline ‘Do No Harm.’ This has been our guiding principle since the founding.”

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Improving Patient Outcomes With Empathy

Its results on nondiagnostic tasks are impressive, but Hippocratic AI's true differentiator is its focus on empathy, says Munjal Shah. Through a partnership with Nvidia, the company is working to further reduce the latency of its AI agents' responses, making them feel even more natural and humanlike in conversational interactions.

Its internal research found that even small improvements in response times can significantly enhance patients’ emotional engagement and comfort levels with the AI, making them more likely to continue to use the technology and improve outcomes.

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"Voice-based digital agents powered by generative AI can usher in an age of abundance in health care, but only if the technology responds to patients as a human would," said Kimberly Powell, vice president of health care at Nvidia, in a recent statement on the company’s partnerships with health care companies. "This type of engagement will require continued innovation and close collaboration with companies, such as Hippocratic AI, developing cutting-edge solutions."

While the health care industry continues to grapple with staffing shortages, the empathetic AI agents developed by Hippocratic AI could offer a powerful solution to at least some of the increasing demand for care, particularly in high-volume, low-risk contexts that play an important part in achieving better outcomes for patients.

“We have something here,” said Shah at GTC. “It’s not a replacement for physicians, it’s not a replacement for high-risk activity, but for patient-facing, low-risk activity, you can use it, and we’d love to try.

“Today, roughly 40 health systems and insurance companies have said, A, we’d like to help you make sure it’s safe, and B, we’d like to use it when it becomes available.”

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