Born out of the need to bridge the shortage of radiologists in the country (just 10,000 for a population of over a billion), especially in the rural areas, Meenakshi Singh, CEO and Co-Founder, Synapsica witnessed the effects of shortage of radiologists that leads to incorrect diagnoses and treatments, at times, at a very early age. Errors and inconsistencies are uncomfortably common in radiology practice, estimating an average of 30% retrospective error rate among radiologic studies.
However, a misinterpretation by a radiologist can result in severe health complications that can be detrimental to the health of the patient and may even lead to death.
Synapsica, India’s leading AI-based radiology reporting start-up, is focused on using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to find a faster and more efficient solution to reduce workload for doctors and radiologists. It enables patients get more accurate and objective diagnoses sooner with the help of AI.
Seeing the potential of AI in solving this challenge by bringing speed, standardization and objectivity into radiology reporting, Meenakshi founded Synapsica along with her co-founders Dr. Cherian (COO, MBBS, AIIMS, New Delhi) and Kuldeep Singh Chauhan, (CTO, IIT Kharagpur). Since its inception in 2019, Synapsica has raised funding of 4.2 million USD in a Series A round. The company’s investors include Y Combinator, IvyCap Ventures, and Endiya Partners.
In an exclusive interview with The Financial Express Online, Meenakshi Singh spoke about the current state of radiology in India, the impact COVID has created and what the future holds. Excerpts.
What is the need for Synapsica in the Indian healthcare ecosystem?
We are the first AI in Radiology company to create automations for a suite of pathologies instead of detecting specific diseases with <5% incidence. This approach makes regular clinical reporting more efficient.
Given that there are just 10,000 radiologists in the country for a billion people due to which a radiologist only gets 4 seconds per image for evaluation and 45% of them report burnout, we are playing a crucial role in bridging this gap and enabling radiologists to take up more cases. In the backdrop of shortage of radiologist workforce globally, the most basic impact of automation will be to increase efficiency and productivity of radiologists, reduce radiologists’ burnout, and hence make reliable diagnoses available to more patients. In the longer term, reducing costs and availability of radiology services will make evidence-based healthcare more reliable, affordable and available to lesser privileged sections of society as well.
Could you tell us more about the products?
Synapsica is building radiology workflow solutions that are backed by new-age technology, including AI and its subsets – Computer Vision, NLP (Natural Language Processing) and distributed computing to bring efficiency to incumbent practices. Back and neck pain has ranked #1 for Years Lived with Disability (YLD) in WHO surveys since 1990. Our AI algorithms are engineered to detect and report the cause of pain automatically.
Spindle and and SpindleX, developed by us are the first commercial algorithm globally to automatically report degenerative (age-related) pathologies in MRI and X-ray scans of the spine. Degenerative changes are present in most MRI spine scansand our platform automatically detects these right at its benign stage, helping the patient take precautionary measures for the future.
We also have innovative solutions for chest X-rays and workflow automations solutions for radiology labs. Our products have been tested by the senior doctors and radiologists of prestigious institutions like AIIMS and are today being used across 600+ locations globally including United States, Africa, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
What was the impact of COVID on Synapsica?
The massive pressure on radiology centres during COVID due to increase in COVID related scans, travel restrictions and unwillingness of the staff to travel during COVID, created a chaos. However, AI-based radiology practices and teleradiology played a critical role in diagnosis and even triaging, particularly during the second wave, with RTPCR reports getting inordinately delayed more often than not. A number of radiology centres in remote areas were able to access Synapsica’s network of radiologists on our cloud platform and could handle the increased volume of scans with radiologists working from home. One of our Jharkhand based diagnostic centre was able to meet the high demand for radiology tests during COVID and undertake over 1500-2000 tests in a month which was easily 4X more than the tests they were conducting in a month in the past.
Do you see COVID bringing changes in the industry?
COVID-19 pandemic has created an urgency to adopt AI in healthcare and radiology is at the forefront of adopting it. Untill the advent of COVID-19, most AI applications were considered experimental whereas now AI is already a part of clinical reporting flows in several large-scale medical centres. While FDA is clearing new AI applications every quarter, organizations are creating processes to integrate AI and accelerate its clinical usage. Also, time optimization has traditionally been a driving factor in several aspects of the radiology services market. Teleradiology and cloud-native PACS systems have been used to fill expertise gaps in radiology panels of imaging centers. However, COVID-19 has created a push for even in-house panels to report remotely.
We are witnessing an increased number of individual radiologists, hospitals and radiology centres moving towards AI as it enables them to handle much more cases (atleast 3X) in a lesser time, brings objectivity in reports and allows radiologists to work remotely. In fact, we have more than doubled our client base in the past year.
What are the future plans for Synapsica?
We are building new features that extend the capabilities of existing AI engines in automatically detecting pathologies in the spine. This will bring us closer to the vision of automating 60% of radiology reporting workloads over the next few years. We are also planning to launch more AI-driven features that further reduce radiology workloads while quickly creating more detailed and objective reports. Along with this, we are planning to expand in the US, the UK and Australia.