Boston Children's, Buoy Health embark on 'learning partnership' to teach Buoy's AI about kids

By Jonah Comstock
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Online AI-powered healthcare chatbot Buoy has announced a new, deep partnership with Boston Children’s Hospital. Buoy will create a white-labeled version of its product for Boston Children’s website, use data from that version to improve its product’s pediatric expertise, and even get help from doctors at the Boston health center to evaluate its algorithms.

“Ten percent of our traffic every single day is a patient asking for help with their children,” Buoy CEO Andrew Le told Babyforyou.net.ua. “And while we already cover pediatric diagnoses, we really saw that with the uptick in our users and how many parents we were seeing that it was time now to bring on someone who could help us think through pediatric diseases, everything from the bread and butter to the more complex.”

Le is calling it a “learning partnership”, the first of many, he hopes, and a distinct category from the partnerships Buoy has recently announced with CVS and Circulation, which were primarily about establishing new channels through which patients could access Buoy and new care channels Buoy could connect patients to.

“This is one of a series of partnerships meant to double down on our medical and AI expertise,” Le explained. “Through Children’s we’ll be working with pediatricians, experts in their field, to help train the program, in addition to the data-driven training that is happening on Children’s website. So it’s more about the scientific rigor as opposed to the longitudinal journey that the first two partnerships were more focused on.”

The eventual goal is to have a chatbot that is less of a medical generalist and more of a specialist in a variety of different areas. For Boston Children’s, the partnership is a vehicle to get the hospital’s pediatric expertise out of the Boston area and into the world.

“Deep pediatric expertise is concentrated in relatively few places — yet kids are cared for around the world,” Jean Mixer, VP of digital health at Boston Children’s Hospital, said in a statement. “Digital tools like Buoy allow Boston Children’s to share our pediatric expertise globally — making it accessible right at people’s fingertips and helping to make more informed decisions.”

AI-powered chatbots as an entry into the health system, and a way of triaging out minor issues, are a promising field in digital health but one that’s not without controversy, as the UK’s Babylon Health found out when its major press event was met with pushback from doctors and professional organizations.

Le says that the field is both hard in general and hard to benchmark, as gold standards simply don’t exist for what they’re doing. That’s why partnering with organizations like Boston Children’s is important, he said.