How Laura Health an artificial intelligence critical decision-making system is helping healthcare teams to reduce patient mortality rates in hospitals and clinics
By Teresa Murray, freelance writer Healthech and Giant Health Team writer
To say that Brazil is big is an understatement. It is the fifth largest country in the world with a population of over 212 million people. In a country like Brazil, developing a
quality, equitable and affordable healthcare system is a mammoth task.
Size does matter. Especially when it comes to healthcare provision.
Cristian Rocha believes in public systems. He is not someone who came from a privileged background so appreciates public education and healthcare. He obtained his
Master in Artificial Intelligence and Computer Vision from a scholarship he won from the European Union.
Well educated and well qualified, Cristian didn’t seek out the high-paying jobs in the flourishing tech industry. Instead, he returned to Brazil driven by his dream to use
technology to help his country. He wanted to make a difference.
He just didn’t know which path to take.
In 2016 he met Jacson Fressatto, who also came from tech. Jacson told him the tragic story of how he had lost his baby daughter to septic shock when she was just 18 days old. Her sepsis had gone undetected on a hospital ward during the night.
Her name was Laura.
Cristian Rocha and Jacson Fressatto decided to create something that would help prevent what had happened to Laura.
Knowing nothing about healthcare they researched both the private and the public healthcare systems in Brazil. Their studies unearthed a myriad of problems and
Bent on achieving their mission, they knew they needed an insider and so joined forces with a physician who knew the system well. Cristian and Jacson wanted to create
something that would save lives so they focused on critical care.
Together they built Laura Clinical Intelligence, named after Jacson’s daughter. This system, driven by artificial intelligence (AI), supports clinical decision-making and is
focused on those decisions that are critical to better risk management of patient caseloads.
To do this, the artificial intelligence connects to all of the electronic health records in the hospital; it also mines patient-related data in real time for example, tests that the laboratory may be processing and it looks at patient vital signs. Then, using machine learning algorithms, it predicts which patients are currently at the highest risk of
deterioration and flags them to the healthcare team.
The system also points the physician to the most relevant clinical information.
This goes a long way to solving a very deadly problem: mortality.
According to a study by the American Medical Association, physicians spend around 50% of their time studying electronic health records and searching for information relating to their patients. They spend another chunk on manual data entry or other tasks that could be easily automated. Much of the data that physicians need to provide quality care is siloed away in different systems, making retrieval time consuming.
This leaves a paltry 25% of their time for direct patient care.
Not much of a chunk really.
Even though they had built this amazing system, however, to their surprise no-one was interested.
Not one hospital. Not one doctor.
Clinical staff were afraid of anything to do with artificial intelligence. So afraid that one day it would replace them, they didn’t even want to discuss the system Cristian and
Jacson had built to help them.
For Cristian, using AI- driven technology to replace healthcare teams ran counter to their mission, which was to support health teams to provide better care for the
“Technology is just a tool, it is the means, never the end” says Cristian.
Investors weren’t interested in their system either at the beginning, so to survive they had to bootstrap for years, using the money to keep investing in developing the
system. Bootstrapping is when you do side-projects to finance your start-up project.
They finally managed to get a hospital interested enough to do a pilot in 2017.
Today, Laura is used in more than 50 hospitals throughout Brazil, both private and public. Laura Health has 10 million electronic health records in its database, probably
the largest in Brazil, and probably the largest in Latin America.
That number is impressive.
But not as impressive as the massive 25% reduction in hospital mortality that one study showed when healthcare teams used the Laura Clinical Intelligence system.
When you scale, that 25% converts into a lot of lives saved. That is the only thing Cristian and Jacson want to do at Laura Health. Save lives.
The same study also showed a 10% reduction in costs. According to Cristian, hospital care is notoriously inefficient with studies showing that from the 1 trillion dollars spent on healthcare, only a small portion of that ends up in direct patient care.
In hospitals, inefficiencies and dysfunctions can kill.
During the pandemic, to help overwhelmed healthcare institutions cope, Laura Health built another system called Laura Care, an innovative system for remote patient
monitoring. This was key during a pandemic that broke the back of even the most robust healthcare services.
The vision of Laura Care is similar to that of Laura Clinical Intelligence. It provides a 360º view of the patient and monitors how they are doing.
With Laura Care, the patient can be easily monitored by the hospital healthcare team remotely. The patient regularly records how he or she is feeling on the app. Laura Care remains connected to the patient’s electronic health records and any additional monitoring tests the person does, so if a deterioration occurs, the physician is alerted
and the patient flagged for closer surveillance or told to come in for care.
This is key in patients coming out of strokes, heart attacks or post-op situations.
Laura Care can also be used by primary healthcare patients. It leverages medical knowledge, data mining and connects the patient directly to healthcare teams via
technology. It is an onmi-channel so people can choose whether to use WhatsApp, SMS, or something else to engage with their GP or nurse.
If a person starts to feel unwell, they enter their symptoms and Laura Care will advise them whether or not they should seek medical attention. It also has a telehealth
function to put the person through to their physician directly without having to go in to the clinic.
All of this in real time.
This is more than having WebMD on your smartphone.
From the start Cristian and Jacson’s vision was to embed solutions in all of the points along the patient’s journey, and today they have products that connect all of the
points along the continuum of care.
Cristian says the premise behind Laura Health is very simple.
Clinical reality in hospitals is that there will always be patients who deteriorate faster than others. Most healthcare providers don’t have sufficient medical staff or good
enough systems to monitor patients closely or frequently enough. So vital deterioration clues can be missed and so pre-emptive actions are not taken in time.
That is when patients can die unnecessarily.
As in the case of Laura, Jacson’s daughter.
Laura Clinical Intelligence and Laura Care are essentially systems that manage clinical risk more efficiently. By automating many of the healthcare teams’ manual tasks,
they free up valuable physician and nursing time for better patient care.
Brazil is not the easiest place to innovate and scale. There’s no seed money. From the list of the 200 most valuable healthtech countries, not one is from Brazil or Latin
America. There’s no big venture capital investment. Before 2019, there was no interest in Artificial Intelligence from healthcare. Cristian and Laura Health struggled for years.
Today it is a different story for Laura Health.
They recently received a 1.8 million dollar investment in Brazil, have expanded their presence in hospitals and experienced a growth rate that more than doubled when
compared to 2020. They expect to grow twofold again in 2022 with expansion planned beyond Brazil into other Latin American countries.
Laura Health is on the up and up, saving lives just like Cristian and Jacson intended.
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