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Saturday, December 2, 2023

‘Telemedicine is extremely valuable’


Pelu is President, Chief Customer Officer, and Co-founder, and sits on the Augmedix Board of Directors. He leads the Sales, Marketing, Product, Design, and US Operations teams at Augmedix. Prior to founding the company, Pelu was a medical student at Stanford and a medical device engineer. Working in his community’s hospitals and clinics, he experienced firsthand the pain of electronic documentation and its impact on patient care and went on leave to found Augmedix four months before receiving his MD.

When Pelu Tran visited Bangladesh three years before to meet with local business leaders to discuss the company’s hiring plans, we got an opportunity to sit down with the visionary entrepreneur and talk about the business trajectory and future plans of Augmedix.

Set to create up to 7 thousand jobs in Bangladesh, the Google Glass startup Augmedix provides a technology-enabled documentation service for health care systems and doctors.- Founded in 2012 by Pelu Tran and Ian Shakil, the Google Glass powered remote scribe service (assistance in record keeping) frees doctors from three hours of mandated charting and documentation each day. The service enables doctors to put on a pair of smart glasses and then proceed to talk with patients rather than trying to simultaneously listen to the patient and make necessary input into the database.

FINTECH: Could you start by explaining to us a little bit about the background of Augmedix and why you chose the health sector?

So, my background is that I was an engineer at Stanford. That’s actually where my co-founder Ian (Shakil, CEO and Co-founder) and I met. And I was working in hospitals in the US and realising that doctors in America really need help. They really need smart, capable individuals who can support them; most importantly in the patient record keeping and the accuracy of the medical authentication they create.

The average doctor in America spends three to three and half hours a day for paperwork. And we realised that someone who is young and motivated, speak English in somewhere like Bangladesh could do a very good job at supporting these doctors. The saw the connection between these doctors in America who are spending so much of their extremely valuable time on patient record keeping and these people in Bangladesh and other countries who are motivated and looking to be a part of the global workforce. That kind of pairing creates the opportunity to help one another. This really was the motivation behind the Augmedix concept.

FINTECH: Your service depends on the Google Glass technology. Could you explain how you decided on that particular setting or format?

If you imagine that somebody who is not in the patient’s room or not in the clinic room, trying to help the doctor write out notes, trying to help make sure that patient record is accurate; you really need for them to be one with the doctor. Basically, they need to see what the doctor is seeing, hear what the doctor is hearing, and really understands almost seeing (the situation) over the doctor’s shoulder. Furthermore, the only technology that does so is Google Glass or other wearable technologies.

And we have found that if you don’t have Google Glass or other wearable technologies the scribe will actually not be as much accurate. They will have the worst job, because they will not know where the doctor is looking, they will not know the context. So, it’s really important if you actually wanted to create an accurate record you need something like Google Glass.

FINTECH: What do you think are the implications of this technology in other sectors?

Even within healthcare sector the opportunities are immense. If you think about this, in Bangladesh for example, if you could have a remote worker who work in villages and rural areas of Bangladesh, if you have them to be able to connect to a doctor based in Dhaka, or even a doctor based elsewhere in the world to help provide expert opinion, you really are looking at a real time expert technology.

And you can deploy it to deliver care in different areas, you can deploy it to make doctors better doctors, you can deploy it to bring the western based practices to doctors in Bangladesh. There are so many ways you can use these remote telemedicine solutions to train and improve the quality of care throughout the health sector, from rural care workers, to nurses to doctors.

FINTECH: Last year we had a live VR surgery being broadcast from the Royal College of Surgeons in London. Do you think your service could branch out to something like this where critical surgeries will be observed and even assisted remotely?

I think there are opportunities to use technologies like this for education. And education is very important. My personal belief and the belief that Augmedix has is that what’s most viable, beyond education, is to be able to bring the right medical resource to the right place, at the right time. So, when you are a rural health worker and you are providing care for patients, 99 percent of the patients that you see,you will be able to take of; you know that have simple conditions like flu or a sprain of wrist or whatever. But once there is one patient for whom you really need a doctor there, I think the value that telemedicine offers is that you can get the doctor in there.

Educating people is helpful, it’s good, but it’s far better to just get the right resource at the point of care you want it. And I think that is actually far more valuable. Telemedicine is far more valuable than tele-education.

FINTECH: Would you comment on how you think the Google Glass technology will shape the future biometric ID and by extension services that need them? We are a fintech magazine, so we happen to be particularly interested in how that relates to the financial sector. What are your thoughts on this?

I think when you have real time connection between individuals and when you have real time streaming support, it is very hard to forge or very hard to hack into (the system). So, if you are literally being supported by real time assistance and they are constantly providing you value I think then the security situation becomes very different.

FINTECH: What sort of expansion you envisage for Augmedix in the coming years?

The most important expansion is just growing. Servicing more doctors, adding more scribes…we will grow multiple each year in many years to come. You mentioned some of the telemedicine opportunities where we can help improve the quality of care for doctors; we can catch medical errors; we can deploy solutions that work in the lower resource environment like rural areas in Bangladesh that can benefit from telemedicine.

And as the technology gets cheaper, as it gets more reliable, I think that the cost going down and reliability going up will start introducing other possibilities where you can have rural care workers ask doctors based in somewhere like Dhaka or even in the US for help.

FINTECH: Thanks very much for speaking with us.

Absolutely, thank you.


Saqib Sarker

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