New challenge to deliver awareness for potential asthma patients by "AI powered questionnaire"
AI-powered questionnaire informs potential asthma patients on the increase under the pandemic Behind the scenes of the verification program that achieved first-time HCP visits from 50% of people in need of care
- Verification of an asthma early detection and diagnosis service based on “AI medical consultation
- service Ubie ”, which supports symptom-based user search for possible diseases online.
- About 20,000 people with cough symptoms used “AI medical consultation service Ubie” during the verification period.
- The project uncovered the fear of the risk of COVID-19 infection and the anxiety of being seen outing by others during visits to HCP.
- The project led to HCP visits by over 50% of the users, accelerating discovery of new asthma patients.
- There is certainly a sense of anxiety about visiting hospitals and a need for telemedicine
- Some younger patients are eager to have a telemedicine environment
Asthma is a disease that is on the rise today. However, reportedly, there are many undiagnosed patients who are unaware of the disease.
Under the COVID-19 pandemic, patients with cough symptoms have been noticeably reluctant to seek medical attention. In order to support early detection and treatment of asthma, AstraZeneca and Ubie, Inc. (Ubie), the marketer of “AI medical consultation service Ubie”, partnered through i2.JP, a healthcare innovation hub, to start a new collaboration project.
We spoke with Akira Oka of Ubie, Masahisa Jinushi and Yuri Okubo of AstraZeneca about the collaboration.
It's only a cough, but still a cough - Support for potential asthma patients through AI medical consultation service
- First, could you give us an overview of the project and what kind of initiatives were undertaken by both companies?
Masahisa Jinushi (Jinushi)：What we did with Ubie was verification of a service that supports patients with asthma symptoms through “early detection" of a disease and "early visits" to a hospital.
We delivered "AI medical consultation service Ubie" to potential patients with suggested link to asthma and helped them look for relevant diseases based on their symptoms and learn about appropriate steps to take, like visiting a nearby medical institution.
- What was the context behind starting this verification?
Jinushi：COVID-19 pandemic caused our society to become significantly more sensitive to coughs. Now everyone is paying more attention to cough symptoms.
Fearful of how others would see them if they are coughing on the way to a medical facility or in a waiting room - It was a no-brainer that the rate of HCP visits by asthma patients would fall. In fact, the survey suggested clearly that new HCP visits for asthma symptoms decreased noticeably.
Those who did not seek medical attention may have made a decision on their own, being afraid of the risk of infection or feeling bad about upsetting the persons nearby for coughing at outing. They may have determined, "It's probably just a sore throat from a common cold, so let's just stay home and heal."
However, cough can also be a sign of diseases that require serious medical attention, and one of such diseases is asthma. Asthma may not be properly diagnosed if early symptoms are missed, or it may develop into a serious condition.
A task force was formed within our company to see if there was a way to support patients suffering from cough symptoms before patients progress to such a condition.
- How did you come across Ubie?
Jinushi： In the process of considering solutions, the task force concluded that intervention is needed in the “interview” stage of doctor’s visits. So, we consulted with Mr. Liu, Director of i2.JP, and he immediately introduced us to Ubie.
Akira Oka (Oka)：Prior to this project, we had already been discussing with Mr. Liu within the i2.JP network, on the features of our service and the values we can provide.
In particular, early detection of a disease is a phase in which we can demonstrate strengths of our "AI medical consultation service Ubie". It also goes well with the pain of potential patients who are hesitant to visit medical institutions. In the end, the project was agreed very smoothly after we received a proposal. I am thankful for the great offer that connected us together.
Jinushi：Our questions were, “ by offering people with cough symptoms ‘AI medical consultation service Ubie ‘, can we inform the cause of their symptoms and their relevance to asthma and provide them with the clues to determine whether they should or should not go to a medical institution?” With the help of Ubie, we have started to verify this question.
Trial and error in the verification process to deliver "AI medical consultation service Ubie” to the right target
- Specifically, how did you proceed with the verification?
Jinushi：We used a questionnaire to speed up the verification results.
We recommended “AI medical consultation service Ubie" to those who have cough symptoms and then assessed what diseases were suggested. Furthermore, we measured success in triggering HCP visit and checked medications prescribed when asthma was suggested. Our desire was to ensure broad coverage during the follow-up.
In designing this questionnaire, Ubie’s insights were shared fully, under the leadership of Mr. Oka. Key to this verification program was the design of the questionnaire with a sense of reality, tracking patient journey at each stage of actions leading to medication.
Oka：Thank you. On the other hand, pharmaceutical companies have the best knowledge about what criteria and logic are to be employed during the interview phase on the Ubie service. AstraZeneca's knowledge was provided to us, with which we were able to refine our data and know-how that we already possessed.
Jinushi： I remember we communicated very closely at this project designing stage. We had weekly meetings and included Mr. Okubo from Marketing, who works very closely with doctors and asthma patients in AstraZeneca.
- How did you get in touch with patients who were worried about their cough symptoms?
Yuri Okubo (Okubo)：We reached out to our target patients mainly by distributing Google search engine ads and display ads.
In fact, this was the most difficult part of this project. With a limited budget, how to reach as many people as possible was a major challenge.
We selected search terms for triggering ad display that clearly express the needs of potential asthma patients such as "prolonged cough" and "suffocating cough" and that are likely to rank high in the search results. We refined our approach little by little by seeing the response.
Our ads covered a mix of geographical areas with different severity of COVID-19 infections because the virus was spreading unevenly in the country last year.
Ubie also supported us immensely in terms of advertising. We may have strengths in the pharma space but not in digital. We are very grateful for their support in making very precise calculations and designs of where and how much money we should invest.
Offering of asthma awareness led to first-time HCP visits by over 50% of users
- What were the results of the questionnaire?
Oka：We had very good results. Many of the responses were in line with our hypothesis, suggesting our contribution to early detection and early HCP visits among asthmatics.
As expected, many people told us that they made a search because cough made them worry about COVID-19 infection and that they refrained from seeing a doctor under the pandemic from the fear of upsetting others.
In addition, for those who have been suggested possible link to asthma on "AI medical consultation service Ubie", we implemented a setup to transition to a website called "Change Asthma” operated by AstraZeneca. Many became aware of their link to asthma, followed proper steps recommended from this website and sought medical attention, and quite a few have been officially diagnosed with asthma by a doctor.
We reached out to 20,000 people during the verification period, and of those, about 200 responded to our questionnaire. This is about 1% of the total population, but I could just tell from their responses how confused they had been and how glad they were after seeing the doctor.
Okubo：Our passion to serve asthma patients has been with us throughout operation of "Change Asthma.” However, we had virtually no way of measuring the success of bringing people to medical institutions for proper medications and treatments.
それがIn this verification, we confirmed that our website supported behavioral change. This was a great win for us, asthma drug marketing team.
- Just how many did initiate action such as visiting medical institutions?
Okubo：More than 50% of those who were recommended to seek medical attention by the service made an appointment or visited a hospital. We did not anticipate that one out of every two people would show change in behavior, and we were both surprised and delighted.
Moving towards a new solution with improved accuracy of interview and appropriate treatment of asthma
- The program triggered behavioral change in one out of two people, which is amazing. What are you doing to build on the results of the program?
Jinushi：Although the absolute number of responses to the questionnaire was small, it was a big gain to get data on how many people changed their behavior, which healthcare providers they visited, how they were diagnosed, and what medications they were prescribed. During the verification process, we were able to identify points for improvement and ways to improve accuracy of the interview in the service, and we are now building on these points in the next step.
Our new solution has also led to the release of ‘EDGE’, an app that assists existing asthma patients in staying on treatment.
Okubo：In addition to continuing to reach out to new asthma patients, we are challenging ourselves to bring awareness to asthma patients who are currently undergoing treatment.
In fact, many patients already know they have asthma but downplay the symptoms. How to identify those with severe asthma and how to alert them is another challenge.
In any case, the use of "AI medical consultation service Ubie" is an essential part of this project. We hope to continue working with Mr. Oka on the project.
- How do you feel when you look back on this project?
Oka：We advocate use of technology to guide people to appropriate medical care. We are thinking day and night about how to refine our AI-based products and deliver them to patients and doctors.
However, the reality is that with limited resources of a startup, there are some areas that are out of reach no matter how committed we are. The target size of "potential asthma patients" was so large that it would have been difficult for us to focus on this area on our own.
It was a very valuable experience to jointly work on this project with AstraZeneca’s support in this area. I am very grateful that we are working together to define a future of medicine.
As for the project at hand, as Mr. Okubo mentioned earlier, we are about to take a more in-depth approach to people with severe asthma. Our most recent mission is to reach as many patients as possible.
Okubo：As a therapeutic drug marketing team, we have a strong desire to help patients get the right treatment, but we don’t own the methodologies internally.
In this regard, it was Ubie’s commitment that helped us jointly paint a picture of how to use various technologies to reach potential patients and measure the results. We really appreciated it.
Jinushi：Mr. Oka and people at Ubie were passionate about the project. We had frank discussions with the same level of energy.
In order to deliver a solution to patients quickly under the pandemic, we need to move the project forward in a timely manner. That required hard work and cooperation with each other. I have seen cases where there is a gap in the level of commitment between two parties in cross-company projects, but this time there was no such gap. I believe we had smooth cooperation.
Oka：The reason why the project went smoothly and verification was completed was because i2.JP offered a platform for open exchange of opinions and collaboration. I feel that an organization like i2.JP is instrumental to accelerating healthcare transformation, ranging from discovery of patient pain points to resolution.
Jinushi：I believe that Ubie and AstraZeneca are partners with similarity in philosophy, envisioning a future of healthcare that are patient first. We would like to use the outcome of this project for solving emerging patient issues. We would also like to strengthen our support for better selection of therapeutic drugs based on medical interviews.
Along the way, we will find areas where we can utilize our knowledge as a pharmaceutical company, but there are also areas where we are not good enough. We would like to continue to work with dedicated teams like Ubie and take steps toward realization of patient-centric care.
- Akira Oka
- Business Development, Ubie, Inc.
A member of Ubie Discovery, which supports new business development. Oka launched and led various new projects in the pharmaceutical field using "AI medical consultation service Ubie” and "AI Monshin Ubie".
- Masahisa Jinushi, MD, PhD
- TA Head of Oncology Medical, AstraZeneca K.K.
Head of Oncology TA and General Manager of Medical. Project Manager for this project.
- Yuri Okubo
- Brand Manager, Biologics, Respiratory & Immunology Business Unit, AstraZeneca K.K.
Responsible for marketing of a severe asthma treatment. In charge of strategic planning and execution for product value maximization.
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