The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) is funding an initiative that will develop and test an artificial intelligence solution designed to enable healthcare providers to remotely examine children with skin, ear, and throat conditions.
Cambridge, Mass.-based BelleTorus Corp. (Belle.ai) and its partner Urban Health Plan (UHP) have received a $3.5 million contract from ARPA-H to improve pediatric healthcare access using AI. The award is intended “to advance the implementation and utilization of pediatric telehealth services specifically focused on the management of colds, sore throats, and ear infections.”
Ear infections are the most common reason children visit their doctors in the United States and the second most common pediatric diagnosis in emergency departments. They account for about 30 million visits to the pediatrician each year.
“Office visits represent a particular burden to socioeconomically disadvantaged families and underserved rural populations, where clinics may be far from home and time away from work or transportation means may not be guaranteed,” ARPA-H said in its open and competitive solicitation. “Prompted by the recent pandemic, telehealth has emerged as a critical tool in healthcare delivery, providing remote access to healthcare services for children and their families. However, visits requiring direct physician-patient interaction (for ear checks or lung auscultation) have lagged behind in transitioning to telehealth.”
UHP is Belle.ai’s clinical partner for measuring impact on patient outcomes and reducing healthcare providers’ burden. UHP is a system of Federally Qualified Health Centers whose 84,000 patients resulted in 400,000 visits (including more than 150,000 pediatric visits) in 2022 across 12 sites and 12 school-based health centers in the Bronx, Central Harlem, and Queens, New York. This patient population is racially, ethnically and socio-economically diverse. Over the past decades, UHP has developed clinical research operations to assess new technologies for high impact on health equity and population health.
“In a time of tremendous disparities in health and access to care, America needs better solutions to extend high-quality care to medically underserved communities, including the more than 30 million patients who depend on community health centers for care,” said Paloma Hernandez, president and CEO of UHP, and Chair of the Board of the National Association of Community Health Centers, in a statement. “We are deeply honored, along with our partner Belle.ai, to receive one of the first contract awards from ARPA-H, which is designed to enable development and deployment of a solution that could have a powerfully beneficial impact in the communities we serve.”
Belle.ai helps people lacking access to dermatologists to receive care for their skin from front-line primary care providers. From a smartphone photo, Belle 1K Skin AI assists healthcare professionals in independently evaluating their patients by using geometric analyses to compare smartphone images of the skin against a repository of images for more than 1,600 skin and throat conditions. It is used as a reference tool by providers including community health centers, emergency departments and community hospitals. Researchers in low- and middle-income countries around the globe are using Belle.ai’s technology to study the prevalence of rare and neglected tropical diseases.
“Innovating the care for ear infections is a tremendous contribution to our medical services toolbox,” said Emme Deland, a senior healthcare leader in New York and Strategic Advisor to Belle.ai’s board of directors, in a statement. “Improving quality, access, and efficiencies are what Belle.ai is committed to achieving every day.”
“This contract award from ARPA-H highlights the promise of Belle.ai’s scientific, mathematical and engineering achievements,” said Richard D. Granstein, M.D., chair of the Department of Dermatology at Weill Cornell Medicine who holds equity and serves as an advisor to BelleTorus Corp.
Under their contract, Belle.ai and UHP will measure and report to ARPA-H the results of the digital innovation for skin, throat and ear image analytics, including impact on patient outcomes, reduced burdens on healthcare providers, and community-wide economic benefits of greater health equity and access.