CVS, Mayo Clinic, Spark Capital back Abridge's $30M round to scale up generative AI-powered notetaking for doctors

Abridge, a startup that developed artificial intelligence-based documentation solutions for healthcare, has seen rapid growth in the past year, propelled by a "tornado of tailwinds," according to company CEO Shivdev Rao, M.D.

The company's technology sits at the intersection of two massive trends in healthcare—clinician burnout and accelerated adoption of generative AI.

"This problem around clinician burnout has risen to the level of a public health emergency," Rao said in an interview. "Now, health systems have this top priority to figure out a solution for it and the old ways of solving it aren't really available to them; you can't raise prices. And certainly, it's difficult to solve the supply-demand mismatch that we're having in healthcare delivery by asking clinicians to do more when two out of five doctors are saying that they want to leave healthcare in the next couple of years. So they need technology."

"The other tailwind that we've been right at the intersection of is generative AI. What ChatGPT has done for all of us in terms of making it top of mind is demonstrating that this technology can be part of the solution," he said. 'Over the last 10 to 12 months, we've been able to demonstrate at scale at large health systems that this technology can improve the care delivery experience and it can unburden clinicians from the clerical work that's crushing their souls at night," said Rao, who, along with being a co-founder of Abridge, also is a practicing cardiologist who previously served as an executive at UPMC's venture arm.  

Abridge launched in 2018 and uses AI to increase the speed and accuracy of medical note-taking, leveraging a proprietary dataset derived from more than 1.5 million medical encounters. Around 5,000 doctors currently use the company's software, which automatically converts a patient-clinician conversation into a structured clinical note draft in real-time.

The company banked $30 million in a series B raise to support large-scale health system rollouts of its technology and accelerate product advances that will create additional value for patients, clinicians and health systems, the company said. The round values Abridge at $200 million, Forbes reported.

Abridge has raised $62.5 million to date.

Spark Capital led the funding round and was backed by existing investor Bessemer Venture Partners. Abridge also has attracted the attention of other big-name investors including the venture arms of CVS Health and Kaiser Permanente and major provider organizations such as Lifepoint Health, Mayo Clinic, SCAN Group, UC Investments (University of California) and the American College of Cardiology. 

“We share Abridge’s vision of doing all we can to help clinicians focus on their patients, rather than needing to multitask with documentation,” said Dr. John D. Halamka, President of the Mayo Clinic Platform. 

As retail pharmacy company CVS expands deeper into offering healthcare services, such as through its acquisition of Oak Street Health this year, the company is interested in using Abridge's technology for primary care clinicians, executives indicated.

“We are encouraged by the enthusiasm of thousands of clinicians who use Abridge every day and we look forward to collaborating with this talented team,” said Vijay Patel, managing partner and co-founder of CVS Health Ventures, in a statement. “Our shared focus on innovation in healthcare can help enhance the work Abridge is doing across a range of clinical use cases including primary care.”

Scott Joslyn, Chief Innovation Officer of UCI (University of California Irvine) Health said the organization is focused on enhancing operational efficiency and simplifying documentation for physicians. "The decision to invest in Abridge reflects our commitment to achieving these goals and, importantly, addressing clinician burnout. We recognize the impact of streamlined processes in alleviating the burdens on our healthcare professionals,” Joslyn said.

Abridge says its solution has been proven to save clinicians over two hours per day from administrative burden. In recent implementations, over 91% of notes across over 40 specialties were drafted solely with their AI, requiring minimal input from the clinician.

There is ongoing investment in using AI, natural language processing and voice-enabled technologies to automate doctor-patient conversations and it's becoming a competitive space. Nuance, now owned by Microsoft, is considered a leader in the segment and recently unveiled its latest voice-enabled medical scribe application integrated with OpenAI's GPT-4. 

Other companies that developed AI-powered medical note-taking solutions include public company Augmedix and startups DeepScribe and AI voice assistant Suki. 3M Health Information Systems owns speech recognition company M*Modal and now collaborates with Amazon Web Services to use machine learning and generative AI technology to advance automated medical note-taking and virtual assistant solutions for doctors.

According to Rao, one major point of differentiation from other AI-powered documentation tools is that Abridge's technology maps AI-generated summaries to the source data, helping providers quickly trust and verify recommendations.

"I can highlight any part of the clinical note and get a sense of where the evidence came from," Rao said. "That's an in-house model that retro-engineers transparency and auditability into these large generative models that don't inherently happen. And in healthcare, especially above and beyond any other industry out there, trust is the most important thing. This is a feature that is explicitly built around transparency and trust."

In the past year, Abridge has inked several notable partnerships to expand the use of its gen-AI-powered medical note-taking service.

Electronic health record giant Epic named Abridge the first "Pal" in its "Partners and Pals" program and will integrate the company’s generative AI for clinical documentation into its EHR clinical workflow. This collaboration enables clinicians to integrate real-time, structured summaries of patient conversations.

Several health systems have already deployed Abridge’s Epic-integrated solution, including The University of Kansas Health System, UPMC and Emory Healthcare, among many others. 

The company said its technology is used by thousands of doctors across health systems.

Abridge's generative AI solution for clinical notetaking has been deployed across medical specialties beyond just primary care, Rao said.

"At Emory, we're live across over 22 specialties. We've deployed the technology to over 55 specialties. Time and time again, we see that we can save people up to two to three hours a day," he said. "This round is all about scaling that impact. Now that we've been able to demonstrate it, it works, the proof is in the pudding, how can we be a part of the solution to this public health emergency? How do we get this technology into as many clinicians' hands as possible?"

The company approaches the use of generative AI in healthcare with transparency, reliability and credibility, he said.

"We've published more peer-reviewed computer science papers on how to use transformers, the 'T in GPT,' in healthcare than really any other entity out there. We're very deep in this space. We continue to publish peer-reviewed papers that are rigorous because we want to demonstrate to the entire market that this isn't some black box and that we're very open and transparent about how we're building this technology," he noted.

Abridge's executive team is comprised of top medical and technology leaders, including Dr. Tina Shah, a practicing pulmonary and critical care physician, and Zachary Lipton, considered an expert in AI and an assistant professor of Machine Learning at Carnegie Mellon University.

"At Abridge, we marry healthcare-native DNA to AI-native DNA," Rao said.

As a practicing physician, Rao said he understands the documentation challenges facing doctors.

"After I see a patient, I have to write a note, I have to structure diagnoses and I have to think about what the patient is going to see as well. Abridge helps me with all three of those. It builds a bridge between me and my colleagues, abridge between me and payers and a bridge between me and my patient as well," he said. "It helps me be my best self from the standpoint of trust because I can highlight any part of the note that's been generated and Abridge shows me where the evidence came from. That's where this technology can really give us superpowers."