PORTUGAL – As the world recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, healthcare start-ups at this year’s Web Summit have betted on a significant shift toward “tele-medicine” ranging from mental health apps to a helmet that can remotely shock a patient’s brain.

The use of technology to treat patients virtually was a major theme at one of the world’s largest tech conferences.

Johannes Schildt, whose company Kry allows patients book on-screen medical appointments poised that These days, most people use their phones for a lot of everyday needs, and there is no need for healthcare to lag behind.

The pandemic has accelerated adoption of these new technologies,” Schildt said.

Kry, based in Sweden and operating in five European countries, is far from the only app designed to eliminate the need to visit a doctor in person.

Not all of these start-ups are concerned with physical health. Calmerry, based in the United States, is one of a growing number of e-counseling companies that provide video sessions with mental health therapists.

Most public healthcare systems provide limited or no access to such services. Calmerry’s co-founder Oksana Tolmachova stated that one of the company’s main goals was to make therapy more affordable, with subscriptions starting at US$42 per week.

Talkspace, founded in 2012, was one of the first online therapy companies to enter the market. The company’s goal is to remove the stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment and make it more accessible to everyone

Telemedicine robots

Other apps are taking a different approach to combating the worldwide increase in depression and anxiety caused by the pandemic.

Chatbot for mental health, known as Woebot, also invites users to talk about their issues, but the responses are provided by artificial intelligence rather than a human therapist.

While the idea of confiding in a virtual human may be unsettling for some, studies suggest that confiding in a virtual human may encourage people to open up.

Woebot’s founder, and Clinical Research Psychologist Alison Darcy, said the chatbot avoided the “baggage and social constructs” that come with human interactions, such as worrying about what other people would say.

AI has been shown to have its limits when it comes to healthcare. The UK’s MHRA health regulator expressed concern in over the symptom-checking software used by tele-health company Babylon, after reports that it failed to recognize some cases of serious conditions.

France and Germany’s public healthcare system, have authorized virtual appointments allowing doctors to prescribe the use of apps such as weight-tracking software.

The biggest challenge is that many countries’ legislation has yet to catch up with the telemedicine revolution, though this is changing because it is possible to blend virtual and face-to-face appointments.

Barcelona-based Neuroelectrics, demonstrated to a crowd at the Web Summit how a helmet developed by the company can monitor patients’ brains from the comfort of their own homes.

The device uses sensors to display activity in various parts of the brain and can even pulse electricity into specific areas, allowing for remote treatment of conditions such as epilepsy.

Meanwhile, Spanish football legend Iker Casillas is an investor in Idoven, a start-up that uses AI to analyze data from home heart monitoring kits.

Its technology is intended to detect dangerously irregular heart rhythms — an issue that Casillas is deeply concerned about after suffering a heart attack in 2019.

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