How Abridge became one of the most talked about healthcare AI startups.

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Ask any health-focused VC to name one of the top AI startups, and one name comes up over and over again: a Pittsburgh-based company called Abridge. And this is a startup that started before OpenAI was a household name and LLMs entered the common valley vocabulary.

In 2019, Shiv Rao, a practicing cardiologist, pitched Andy Weissman, general partner at Union Square Ventures, on a startup idea. Rao called it SoundCloud plus RapGenius for medicine.

While Weissman thought it was a bit comical to compare a nascent AI-powered medical note-taking app with music hosting and lyric transcription, the concept resonated with him.

Rao explained that doctors spend up to two hours a day – usually outside of normal working hours – typing notes that summarize their interactions with patients that day. Such administrative tasks have been draining physicians for years, leading some to leave the profession altogether. Rao convinced Weissman that the latest innovations in AI could dramatically reduce the time doctors spend on the ever-increasing burden of paperwork.

It was several years ago when creative AI took the world by storm and captured the imagination of VCs.

“It was a pretty crazy idea. No one had done it before,” Wiseman said.

But Weissman and other USV partners liked that Rao was not only a physician at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, but also spent half his time as a corporate venture capitalist for the health system investing in health tech startups. Spent doing Kari. Rao's employees and advisors were also graduates and professors at Carnegie Mellon, one of the top institutions for engineering and AI research in the country.

“[Shiv] He had this rare combination of talents: an entrepreneur with a very passionate vision, with a really interesting team,'' Weissman said. “It felt unique.”

Abridge also had a basic transcription product, which doctors could download for free to their smartphones and start using when interacting with patients. Their use formed the basis of Abridge's LLM.

Five years after USV led a $5 million seed round in Rao's startup Abridge, the company has become one of the most talked-about and fastest-growing AI-powered healthcare businesses.

While most corporations are still very cautious about adopting AI tools, large medical systems are eager to sign contracts with Abridge.

Sales cycle for [health systems] Rao said it could be 18 to 24 months. “When we started the company, we knew what we were in for.” But with a four-year lead on a virtual scribe product that's trained on thousands of doctor-patient conversations, and now that AI is on the rise, hospitals are suddenly buying Abridge at a faster pace than their normally long-term counterparts. Shopping behavior is the exact opposite. The company has announced a new health system customer nearly every week starting in 2024.

“We generated all this potential energy that was activated almost overnight in January,” Rao said. “University of Chicago, Sutter, Yale, Lee Health, Christs, Emory and the list goes on,” he said.

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Image credit: Abridge / Abridge

Major hospitals are not only buying licenses for several thousand sets of Abridge, but in many cases, publishing glowing reviews about how the health tech's software is changing doctors' lives. Hospital executives and doctors are describing Abridge as “life-changing,” “magical” and “one of the most significant paradigm shifts in our careers.”

One of the biggest criticisms of generative AI is that it still has few concrete business applications. But virtual medical note-taking appears to be a valuable use of the new technology.

Drowning in paperwork

“I have professional PTSD and war stories about seeing patients and then having to spend hours and hours at night writing notes and all this cognitive work that really distracts from what's most important, which is your patient, but also removes it from your own personal life,” Rao said.

With Abridge recording in the background, a doctor can focus entirely on the patient without having to worry about filling out specific fields in the medical record during the visit.

Dr. Lee Schwam, chief digital health officer at Yale New Haven Medical System, an Abridge customer, says it's easy to measure reimbursement for AI-powered medical scribes. That's why many health systems are coming to use them, especially Abridge. . “It's one of the hottest products in the AI ​​space right now,” he told TechCrunch.

As with many administrative things in health tech, when it comes to choosing a vendor, the most important considerations are price and integration with Epic, which is used by some of the largest health systems in the U.S., Schwam said. The EHR to be had. Ebridge, which supports 14 foreign languages, including Haitian Creole, Brazilian Portuguese and Punjabi, is often the winner when health systems are compared head-to-head with other AI-powered medical scribes, Schwam said. .

Earlier this year, Abridge acquired the right to merge within Epic. After Abridge records a session and a doctor stops the recording, “there's a note sitting inside the epic in English waiting for them to quickly verify, edit and see fit, Rao said.

While Abridge appears to be ahead of its competitors, which include Ambiance, Nabla and Suki in addition to Microsoft-owned Nuance, Schwamm isn't sure it will be able to maintain its lead for long.

“The big question is, do you need a dedicated medical LLM to be successful in this space?” he asked. “Or will the giant foundation model, GPT-4o, Google and Meta, be good enough to consume an entire corpus of medical notes and begin to perform similarly?”

This line of inquiry suggests that it's early days not just for virtual medical note taking, but for most creative AI companies. The pace of innovation is faster and faster, and today's winners can easily lose their edge.

“Abridge is ahead by a length, but it's early in the race,” Schwam said, “The horse could have a bad knee and stumble, or it could go further.”

For now, most investors TechCrunch spoke to agree that Abridge is leading the AI-powered medical scribe competition. For this reason, money has been poured into the company.

In February, Abridge raised a $150 million Series C led by Lightspeed Ventures at a valuation of $850 million.

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