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Medical startup Sword Health announces AI that patients can talk to

In Business
June 04, 2024

Patient using Sword Health.

Courtesy: Sword Health

Pain management startup Sword Health on Tuesday announced a new artificial intelligence solution named Phoenix that patients can speak with for guidance through virtual physical therapy sessions. 

Sword, founded in 2015, offers digital tools to help patients manage pain from home and avoid other treatments like opioids and surgery. The company has used AI within its products since its launch, but CEO Virgílio Bento told CNBC that Phoenix offers users a more human-like experience. 

Phoenix is designed to replicate the work of a care specialist. Bento said patients should feel like they have a physical therapist inside their homes. Patients can talk directly to Phoenix about how they are feeling, and the new “specialist” can respond, offer feedback and adjust the difficulty and duration of the session in real time. 

Sword patients join sessions using a tablet from the company that can track their movement. Bento said Phoenix monitors their progress, and after each session, it summarizes their performance data and sends it to one of Sword’s human clinicians for review.  

Bento said Sword’s AI is currently able to analyze movement and provide simple feedback, but Phoenix is more conversational. Phoenix’s ability to analyze patients’ data and generate recommendations also helps the company’s clinicians operate more efficiently, Bento added. 

Phoenix will propose changes for the patient’s next session, as well as a follow-up message about the session they completed. Bento said a human clinician decides whether to accept, reject or edit those recommendations. Sword’s clinicians have authority over what exercises are appropriate for a patient, so Phoenix does not make any decisions independently. 

“This is health care, so you will always need that final approval,” Bento said in an interview. “We have strong guardrails in terms of how we do things.”

Patients can sign up for Sword if it is supported by their employer or their health plan. Sword has already carried out more than 3 million AI-powered sessions with patients, according to a release Tuesday. Bento said the company has been focused on business customers but would like to make its solutions available to everyone.

Sword also said Tuesday it raised $100 million in a secondary sale to provide liquidity to current and former employees and early investors. Bento said the company is forecasting that it will be profitable this year, but it raised an additional $30 million in a primary sale to update its valuation. 

The company has raised a total of $340 million and is valued at $3 billion, according to the release. It was valued at $2 billion in late 2021.     

Sword said a mix of new and existing investors participated in the round, some of whom did not want to be named. Venture firms like Khosla Ventures, Founders Fund and General Catalyst have previously invested in the company.

Sword has been testing Phoenix with some patients using its “Thrive” digital physical therapy product. Bento said the company will continue rolling it out to more patients within Thrive and across its other offerings, including its pelvic health solution called “Bloom,” over the coming months. 

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