JETRO Global Connection -Accelerate Innovation with Japan-

Meet Ubie:Using Al to Improve Patient Care

Mar 7, 2023

AI is a popular buzzword these days, and it’s being used in many different industries. We met with Kota Kubo, the co-CEO of UbieExternal site: a new window will open. to learn more about their online solution for making healthcare simpler for everyone.

Can you introduce yourself and the company?

I started this company in 2017 with Yoshinori Abe, and we have two main services. The first is our AI symptom checkerExternal site: a new window will open.. It's a symptom checker for patients. Ubie. means finger in Japanese, so users can access appropriate medical care through the app, using their fingers to answer questions. Users input their symptoms by being asked about 20 questions. The company's platform automatically creates clinical document templates according to each patient's answer and they can look up diseases related to their symptoms.

The AI interface asks questions about their primary symptom, and about the frequency or duration of symptoms, then displays diseases associated with those symptoms. It also displays medical facilities, and for medical institutions, this is very beneficial as it assists in medical treatment.

Our second main product is for healthcare providers. We use the same AI as the patient side product, a symptom checker. It enables hospitals to reduce the doctor's desk work and the patient's wait time. Healthcare providers can share patient care information with their team, and they don't have to make medical notes from zero, so they reduce their time recording data.

Ubie AI symptom checkerExternal site: a new window will open. (Photo provided by Ubie)

Many different people will use this app. How do you design a product that's easy for everyone, including those who aren't used to using technology?

Of course, there are a lot of elderly patient care providers in Japan. For people who don't have a smartphone, it's complicated to use an electronic device they are not used to. We copied the user interface from karaoke remote controls and bank ATM buttons because elderly people, and many other people, are used to that.

At first, we made the interface like a human body. If the patient had a headache, they could tap the head on the human body. But what do you choose if you have a fever? So we replaced it with interview style questions, using keyword buttons for symptoms.

What challenges have you faced with this company as a startup?

There are many challenges in the Japanese healthcare industry, like a lot of paperwork, and medical doctors work very hard. They may work two times longer than other jobs in Japan, and the working style has not changed for some time.

The first goal of Ubie is to reduce doctors' working time that is not related to patient care. They have to spend a lot of time on paperwork, so there is not much time for interviewing or treating the patient. Often, if the physician spends one hour on the patient interview, there are two hours of paperwork related to that case.

What kind of feedback have you had from users?

Healthcare administrators are keen to reduce their organization's total costs and working time. With healthcare providers, we could prove that 70% of their medical interview time can be reduced through our product. We are optimistic that we have a product-market fit because on the patient side, there is a lot of positive feedback from users. Several diseases were suggested related to the symptoms, and one of them was disease identified by the doctor after the patient’s visit. We also get a high score for our Net Promoter Score (NPS). It's more than 40 right now, and generally speaking, in Japan, NPS tends to be lower than zero.

You're doing activities on LinkedIn, including seminars. Does it help bring awareness to the business?

Yes, our business model is a conceptual company. If we can guide people to the appropriate medication, pharmaceutical companies can increase their revenue. Especially for rare diseases, specialty pharmaceutical companies have a big challenge because they don't have patient recognition. Even if patients visit their primary care doctors, the doctor might not be specialized in that domain if it's a rare disease. We can provide and present information that leads to disease awareness and treatment for patients and healthcare providers. We have partnered with more than 25 global pharmaceutical companies and want to expand projects with them.

In 2022, we had a Series C funding round led by Sogo Medical as the lead investor, and companies like Norinchukin Capital, NVenture Capital, The Dai-ichi Life Insurance, Egg FORWARD, Suzuken, AAIC Investment, Japan Impact Investment II Limited Partnership, and Rakuten Capital also participated in the funding round while loans extended from the Shoko Chukin Bank, Japan Finance Corporation, and Mizuho Bank.

Did you notice any change in the number of people using the product since COVID?

We launched the Ubie symptom checker in the summer of 2020, so we only have data after COVID started. Recently, our user base on the patient side has been 7 million monthly active users. This audience grew in only two to three years, so the demand is there from patients.

Have you worked with any of the JETRO programs or accelerators?

Yes, with the office in Singapore, they have supported us by helping us build networks and launching our service in Singapore.

Do you have plans to expand the business into any other countries?

Yes. With the symptom checker, we can launch the service online, so it's simple to start an international launch. There is a large demand for this globally, but our main plan for the global vision is to expand in the US.

The next step is the US business. First, we are going to create a massive user base on the patient side. We have some momentum in Japan, and we know how to grow the user base, so we want to penetrate the US market. We want to show a lot of use cases for the US. After that, we'll reach out to healthcare providers to grow the network in the US.

Ubie Co-Founder/CEO Mr. Kota Kubo and Mr. Yoshinori Abe (Photo provided by Ubie)

Profile of Kota Kubo
The University of Tokyo. In 2013, while in school, he started researching and developing software and algorithms to predict disease names for doctors. He then worked for M3 Inc. for 3 years in software development and web marketing in the healthcare field. In 2017, he co-founded Ubie with Abe.
Report by:
SASAKI Shiori, Innovation Promotion Division, JETRO

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