$28M series B in hand, Syllable looks to revamp healthcare customer service with AI

The startup offers healthcare organizations automated voice and text tools to answer patients' common questions online or over the phone. It plans to use the new funds to grow its team, scale its provider business and tackle new payer customers.(Getty/Tom Merton)

Syllable, a customer service automation platform designed for healthcare organizations, has announced the close of a $28 million series B funding round headed by Oak HC/FT.

The San Jose, California-based startup’s products use artificial intelligence to field and answer patients’ common queries.

Its voice assistant, for instance, answers inbound calls from patients and runs them through a workflow of typical requests such as finding a specific practitioner or scheduling an appointment before forwarding the call to a live call center operator.

It also offers an online tool that acts as a text-based search bar for patients having difficulty navigating a client’s website. Once integrated into the website’s script, the web assistant works to match users’ descriptions of their needs or symptoms to a more standard clinical vocabulary and provide relevant recommendations.

These products—as well as a COVID-specific AI assistant launched by the startup last year—work to cut down organizations’ call center staffing costs and reduce long hold times or transfers that can frustrate patients, the startup said.

“Customer experience in healthcare lags behind almost every other industry, and Syllable is leveraging technology to solve that,” Vig Chandramouli, principal at Oak HC/FT, said in a statement. “We’re proud to back a company that shares our vision for customer-first healthcare, and we’re excited to partner with the team at Syllable to drive improved access to information and care for patients.”

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With the funds, Syllable said it is looking to grow its team, scale up its partnerships with health systems and begin deployment among payers. The startup said that its technology is already in place among “some of the largest and most respected healthcare providers” in the country, and notably names Houston Methodist in Texas as a major customer.

“Syllable has been building an enterprise assistant that modernizes the healthcare contact center and improves the patient experience to be more convenient, reliable and empathetic,” Kobus Jooste, CEO and co-founder of Syllable, said in a statement. “This funding marks a major milestone that will accelerate our progress towards realizing this vision.”

Syllable was founded in 2017 and, according to Crunchbase, raised $4.3 million in a seed round the same year and a nearly $14 million series A in 2018. Behind Oak HC/FT, the most recent round also includes participation from prior backer Section 32.

Healthcare AI startups have received a flood of funding in recent months, hitting a new high of $2.5 billion over 111 deals in the first quarter of 2021 alone, with no small number of dollars going to startups with patient communication chatbots as a core or complementary component of their offerings.

Providers and plans have also been leaning on voice assistants like Amazon Alexa to help patients seek out services or even communicate protected health information since 2019, with UPMC just recently announcing the launch of a virtual concierge feature for its plan members.