“If your dad would just wear a space suit, I could monitor him.”
It’s not often that a random joke leads to the creation of a company, but that’s exactly what happened with Ejenta, a digital health startup.
Maarten Sierhuis, a NASA alum, had made the comment to Rachna Dhamija, a tech veteran and his future cofounder. Both were dealing with aging parents who had health issues.
Sierhuis had spent 12 years as a senior research scientist at NASA, where he used sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor astronauts in space. The technology allowed Mission Control to monitor changes in an astronaut’s vitals and predict when they needed help.
When Dhamija and Sierhuis decided to create Ejenta, they exclusively licensed the technology—called the Brahms Intelligent Agent platform—from NASA. Now, they’re using it to help hospitals and health systems improve patient care.
Ejenta integrates wearable and home sensors that gather data from patients with AI-driven virtual assistants. From home, patients can use Ejenta to exchange messages with these assistants using a web-based chat function similar to the ones used to reach some customer service departments. Ejenta calls these assistants “intelligent agents.” Clinicians can securely access patient information from the Ejenta platform to make more informed care decisions. “When we started the company, we just had a very strong conviction that our parents deserve the same level of care NASA provides its astronauts,” Dhamija said.
Using technology for patients on Earth that was originally meant for astronauts in space wouldn’t be possible without advances in cloud computing. Ejenta’s founders have relied on a flexible cloud infrastructure to securely collect, store and analyze health data, giving patients and healthcare providers critical information.
Bringing Space Technology Down To Earth
As of last fall, digital health startups had already raised a record-breaking $9.4 billion, and by last count, there were more than 8,000 startups in this space.
Ejenta is one of them. The company, which was founded in 2012, originally focused on government-related work, including projects for NASA. However, in the last four years, Ejenta evolved into a digital health company. Dhamija said the company’s AI-driven technology is what makes Ejenta unique from other digital health startups.
“There are a lot of healthcare devices available to consumers, but what’s missing is AI and the automation that can turn this data into insights a doctor can use—actionable data to make care more preventative and more proactive,” she said.
Though Ejenta uses technology licensed from NASA, everyday consumers can’t wear space suits. Instead, Ejenta—whose name is a Bengali slang term for “agents”—uses data from wearable Internet of Things (IoT) devices and at-home sensors to establish a baseline of the user’s health, enabling it to better detect abnormalities and predict health issues in advance. In turn, this allows clinicians to develop a more proactive care plan and identify early interventions that might improve outcomes. The virtual assistants interact with each user and encourage healthy behaviors. Patients can interact with their assistant via text or voice and ask questions like, “What medication do I need to take with breakfast?” The assistant can then respond with an answer.
During a clinical trial involving the use of Ejenta by one of the country’s largest healthcare providers, heart failure readmissions dropped by 56%, showing that improved patient engagement at home can positively affect healthcare outcomes. Readmissions come at a high cost to both patients and the healthcare system, so these findings may have important implications for lowering the cost of care overall. In separate clinical trials, Ejenta also contributed to better outcomes for women who had high-risk pregnancies, leading to a lower risk for gestational diabetes, preterm birth and cesarean sections.
Those results followed years of hard work and focus on IT that underpins what is visible to the patient and practitioner.
“We had a big challenge adapting our solution, which was originally designed to monitor 12 astronauts in space, to scale up to support thousands of patients across a number of different customer types and a number of different health conditions while still being HIPAA compliant,” Dhamija said.
However, Ejenta has been able to scale up and meet the needs of its users more effectively by leveraging AWS as its cloud provider.
Accelerating Innovation With The Cloud
Ejenta uses a variety of AWS cloud services and Alexa-based voice solutions to support its technology, including Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), which allows the company to scale its computing resources up or down based on its data storage and processing needs. Ejenta is also using Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) to cost-effectively store data, along with other AWS services to deploy and scale its web applications, reduce latency and improve performance.
Dhamija said her team chose AWS because it offers flexibility and scalability in a secure cloud environment, which is critical when dealing with healthcare data. Ejenta wanted a “cloud provider that had a reputation for providing HIPAA-compliant services our customers would trust,” she said.
Ejenta was part of the Alexa Accelerator, an Amazon program built around the belief that voice will fundamentally improve the way we interact with technology. The program helped early-stage startups incorporate voice technology into their products and services. The 13-week program, created in partnership with Amazon’s Alexa Fund, provided mentorship, networking opportunities, investor connections and capital to these companies. Before entering the program, Ejenta had used Alexa to support improved diabetes care management for patients. It continued this work during the accelerator.
“Alexa is one of the only voice-based solutions that gave us the ability to engage customers, whether it’s patients or their family, with voice and do it in a HIPAA-compliant way,” Dhamija said.
Ejenta’s participation in the accelerator led to its involvement in AWS Connections, a program that introduces startups to large organizations that have specific technological or business needs. Through the program, Ejenta has begun a new engagement to develop technology for NASA focused on communicating and managing health in deep space. The project will involve using AI and conversational interfaces to solve some of the challenges astronauts face when trying to communicate with their families and Mission Control from deep space. Ejenta plans to leverage AWS edge computing capabilities for the project.
“It’s translational, meaning it can be applied for both Earth and space,” Dhamija said. “If you look at some of the problems we face on Earth or space, they do inform each other, so the goal is to have our Earth-based work inform space, and vice versa.”
The original article can be found at: Forbes (Innovation)