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A virtual assistant that helps manage chronic diseases

Screen images from the Alme Health Coach app
Source: Alme Health Coach
Screen images from the Alme Health Coach app

Apple's Siri may help people remember their next meeting, but a new virtual assistant by Next IT may help save lives.

The new app called Alme Health Coach launched Tuesday and is basically an artificial intelligent assistant that aims to help patients suffering from chronic diseases manage their health.

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Doctors can customize the virtual assistant for individual patients to help them stick to a specific treatment plan.

The virtual assistant acts as an aid to the doctor by reminding the patient to take specific medications and providing information and feedback between the physician and the patient. It also enables the user to register side effects or other changes that can be shared with their doctor and their insurance company if the patient opts to disclose that data.

The Alme Health Coach is HIPAA compliant, and patients decide what information they want to share with their doctor and their insurance company. However, Next IT is working to partner with insurance companies and health care providers to distribute the app to patients, and the company does not aim to open this app up directly to consumers, said Fred Brown, CEO and co-founder of Next IT.

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Next IT has built virtual assistants for a number of companies, including Alaska Airlines, Aetna and Amtrak. But the company has recently taken a greater interest in creating AI-powered assistants aimed at managing patient care because the business opportunity is potentially huge.

"The opportunity is so massive. There are so many companies that are scared of the health care space because it's so regulated, but this opportunity is too big, we can't pass it up and we want to make it better," Brown said.

Health care spending climbed to 17.9 percent of U.S. GDP in 2012, and if the growth trend continues it will hit 20 percent in 2022, according to report from the Milken Institute.

Treating chronic diseases is a huge economic burden in the U.S. Seven chronic diseases—cancer, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, hypertension and mental illness—cost the U.S. economy $1.3 trillion annually in treatment costs and lost productivity, according to a report by the Milken Institute.

Brown said that health-care reform is finally forcing the industry to adopt new technologies because health-care providers are being held more accountable. Doctors, though, need new tools to help collect patient data and monitor their progress, he said.

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"Doctors are getting asked to do more, faster and quicker. What we are trying to do is be the friend of the patient and the enabler of the doctor," Brown said.

"We can do everything with our finances online in an integrated way. Why can't we do it with our health care?"