When Qure.ai first came in contact with India Health Fund (IHF) four years ago, they were a fledgling startup with a great idea: an image-recognition algorithm that can read chest X-ray scans using artificial intelligence for fast and accurate interpretations. IHF urged them to submit a proposal on how they could make tuberculosis detection and treatment better using the algorithm. Qure.ai won a grant from the organisation for a tech called qXR.
IHF’s problem statement also showed Qure.ai a crucial place where their technology could make a difference – in the remotest corners of the country where primary health centres often lack testing facilities and trained staff.
“You take an X-ray scan to a clinic or hospital where it is read by a radiologist,” says Prashant Warier, the chief executive of Qure.ai, “but there is a tremendous shortage of radiologists and trained technicians in India, especially in the last mile. Our technology can automatically process a chest scan and tell you whether you have TB or any other pulmonary abnormalities within a few seconds.”
As of now, the process requires a digital X-ray. But Qure.ai has been working with IHF to see how analogue X-rays can be digitised. The company has now developed and deployed a mobile phone-based application, qTrack, that can take a photograph of the analogue scan. “Because the X-ray is digitised, we can help interpret it better and it can also be sent to a teleradiology group or a radiologist who can read the results remotely,” states Mr Warier.
Praising the association that has made it all possible, Mr Warier says: “IHF recognises the value of this technology and they have been very supportive in introducing us to the right people, including the Central TB Division in the Indian government’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and other organisations in the public sector.
The technology has proved useful for diagnosis of other ailments as well, among them lung cancer and heart failure, all of which can be detected through a chest X-ray. “TB does not get diagnosed early. It’s a low- and middle-income country problem,” says Mr Warier. “Lung cancer is hard to diagnose because the symptoms are often innocuous or not present in the early stages.”
The Covid crisis provided an avenue for qXR to showcase its strengths. Within weeks of the pandemic outbreak, Qure.ai repurposed the algorithm to create an ‘infection score’, reading X-rays to see if a person is at high, medium or low risk of the virus, or does not have Covid because the X-ray does not show any coronavirus-related abnormalities.
“Each and every one of our products caters to the underserved, not only in India but across the world,” says Mr Warier. “Today we have some 700 hospitals across more than 60 countries using our algorithm.
“When we first received the IHF grant about three years ago, we had not started commercialising as much. We were a young firm, and we appreciate IHF for creating these kinds of opportunities for startups to launch their products, have them validated and get access to the market.”