Froedtert Provides Patients with Symptom Checker from Boston Startup Buoy Health

Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin says it’s made an online symptom checker developed by a Massachusetts startup available to patients who receive care at the Milwaukee-based hospital and clinic network.

The new tool for Froedtert patients is from Buoy Health. The Boston-based company has developed an online chatbot that searches through thousands of clinical papers in order to suggest diagnoses based on information users enter about themselves and their symptoms.

Mike Anderes, Froedtert’s chief innovation and digital officer, says the purpose of Buoy Health’s symptom checker is to educate patients about their health, and is “not meant as a substitute for professional medical advice.”

Buoy Health co-founder and CEO Andrew Le says his company’s software uses machine learning techniques and is aimed at connecting symptom information shared by patients with contextual information, such as where they live and work, and what medications they take regularly.

When patients experience unfamiliar symptoms, they often start by searching for information and recommendations on websites such as Google and WebMD, says Le, who got the idea for Buoy Health in 2013 when he was attending Harvard Medical School. However, those ad-supported sites have drawn criticism from observers who argue they’re designed to get people to buy treatments advertised alongside search results and on pages with information on conditions and disorders.

It appears Froedtert patients will be able to use the symptom checker at no cost. Part of Buoy Heath’s growth strategy involves letting anyone try out its symptom checker for free, Le says. The startup makes money by licensing its digital tools to healthcare providers and insurers. Froedtert did not disclose any financial terms of its agreement with Buoy Health in a news release announcing the collaboration.

Inception Health, Froedtert’s hub for digital health services, decided to make Buoy Health’s chatbot available to its patients after researching the software and competing offerings. Inception Health has also invested in digital health firms, such as Chicago-based Avia, which works with hospital systems to identify problems and find technology companies to help solve them.

Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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