Neko, Daniel Ek’s next piece, is another twist on preventive healthcare •

by Ana Lopez

Make room for yet another preventative health game: Spotify founder Daniel Ek on Friday officially confirmed rumors about his new “health tech” startup, Neko, by quietly launching a body scan service in Sweden (via technical EU) after four years of unremarkable development.

Ek has long expressed a personal interest in tackling a “ruined” healthcare system, as he put it Financial times almost ten years ago.

He has also put some money into his mouth, for example by investing in Swedish telehealth platform Kry. But his interest as an investor apparently hasn’t stopped him from wanting to get hands-on, too — as one of two co-founders of Neko Health (the other being Hjalmar Nilsonne, whose previous startup focused on energy data analytics) .

Neko declined’s request for an interview about what it’s building — saying it doesn’t do international media right now. But in a post on LinkedInthe startup announced the official launch of its own “non-invasive” body scanning service at its first “health center” in central Stockholm.

The post will invoice the scan as a “comprehensive health study”, which is aimed (at least initially) at people with skin and heart problems.

Neko says the scan takes 15 minutes — and is followed “immediately” by a personal doctor’s consultation to discuss the results (so the full visit would be longer, although it doesn’t say how long the client stays with a doctor).

“The Neko scan is a truly personalized experience that puts you at the center and seamlessly tracks those changes over time – so you don’t have to,” added Neko.

The startup’s broader pitch is well known: preventive healthcare – with the stated goal of flipping the classic reactive model of care (of investigating symptoms and treating disease) to one where regular health scans can be a proactive tool to drive more positive health outcomes — through early detection of problems and the application of data-driven preventive measures.

“Today’s healthcare systems and primary care processes were designed more than half a century ago and have hardly changed since then. In addition, healthcare costs have increased exponentially in recent decades, and we need to find a way to reverse this trend,” Ek said in a statement. “I have long believed that the future of efficient and affordable healthcare lies in proactive, preventive care. We service and inspect our cars like clockwork every year, but wait for our bodies to crash before we act? That makes no sense.”

This focus on proactive healthcare means that Neko is joining a massive struggle to reinvent care pathways and processes – and generate new revenue (including by selling services to the concerned source). This technology-driven movement ranges (broadly speaking) from telehealth platforms and chatbots (which aim to optimize access to human clinicians, thereby addressing resource scarcity); to a growing number of quantified health and fitness gadgets (which encourage consumers to self-monitor various biomarkers and typically urge them to also participate in beneficial lifestyle changes); to genetic testing services (which claim to provide users with information about their disease risks); to digital therapeutic platforms, including some that complement and roll out traditional drug therapies; to others personally preventive health care plays – such as Forward or Zoi – which most clearly resemble Neko, as they seem to share a focus on rethinking the doctor’s field experience (and making the resulting care more ‘forward-looking’) through the application of more modern and/or or advanced technology to transform patient care. (At least that’s what the field says.)

Details of Neko’s exact technology and approach remain quite vague given dwindling press interviews, so there’s still a lot of detail to be filled in. But the marketing materials offer the general claim that its technology includes “the latest advances in sensors and AI” – further specifying that the sensing technology includes more than 70 sensors, said to store 50 million data points and 15 GB of health data from register patients “in minutes”.

(Although, of course, getting health data is one thing: interpreting it intelligent And useful is a whole different challenge. So it’s certainly noteworthy that Neko’s service is launching with human doctors in the mix.)

Part of the startup’s focus seems to be on technology that interprets (or presents) data on behalf of users — as it says they get access to an “overview” of their health data in the app. This app also aims to let users “follow” their health trends – so it sounds like the goal is to do what Apple’s Heath app does for users of the Apple Watch (but for its own, personalized full-body scans) ).

Are press release confirms that there are costs associated with the body scan. It notes that a visit to central Stockholm to get scanned costs SEK 1,500 (about $140) for “a limited time”. (The full price is reported as costing SEK 2,000.) While data points the scan records would cover a range of cardiology measurements including EKG, murmur, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, arterial stiffness, pulse width, respiration and heart rate.

Neko’s PR also claims its body scan technology can detect skin changes as small as 0.2 millimeters — teasing the idea that these data-driven checks can pick up on things a normal visit to the doctor won’t. (Though it’s also worth noting that the human body goes through all sorts of changes throughout its life that don’t necessarily mean negative health implications, so simply having a ton of data doesn’t necessarily translate into better health care. )

The start-up’s marketing talks about wanting its “new medical scanning technology concept to make it possible to do broad and non-invasive health data collection that is convenient and affordable for the public”. Although technology that requires a person to visit a bespoke clinic to access, that’s not clear. But the longer-term hope is presumably that Neko gains economies of scale and is able to lower its cost per scan – that is, if it can understand all the data it hopes to get from paying customers and then identify patterns on its own that make money. can be earned. (or collaborate with others who are willing to pay for access to support medical research, etc.).

A report on Ek’s startup at the end of last year, by sieved, quoted legal documents filed with the Swedish Company Registry stating its start-up plans to “sell diagnostics products and services, as well as conducting examinations and health checks in the private market – suggesting it intends to establish a B2B business alongside direct-to-consumer clinics where raw human body data can be captured.

A key question for Neko’s approach is effectiveness – both the data capture technology; and of all AI-driven diagnostics that the startup wants to flow from the data.

Neko’s PR notes that its sensing and AI technology is “undergoing multiple clinical trials to demonstrate efficacy” — so much will depend on the results of those trials. (None of these have been published or peer-reviewed to date.)

Another point that needs a lot of attention is privacy – given the amount of sensitive health data these body scans will obviously capture. Neko will, of course, need the proper legal bases for any proposed use of users’ health data, which EU law classifies as sensitive data – requiring the highest standard of explicit consent for processing. User data security will also need to be closely monitored.

In addition, there is the broad and vital issue of patient safety – and the question of how incoming EU AI regulations surrounding potential harm could affect Neko. As the startup builds (or deploys) health data capture devices and seems to want to develop AI for (at least) clinical support and/or medical diagnostics, a range of regulations will likely apply depending on where it wants to. operate the service. Including the EU Medical Devices Regulation and the upcoming EU AI Law (as devices under the former fall under the ‘high risk’ category for the latter).

The EU AI law, which was proposed way back in April 2021 but is still going through the bloc’s co-legislative process, is likely to mean that regional startups using AI for health will not only need clinical trials in the years to come that can demonstrate the efficacy of their products, but will also need to think more broadly about how to identify and mitigate potential harm, for example by addressing issues such as bias, so that they can demonstrate that their technology is safe for anyone to use (not just a subset of a given population) — with the threat of regulatory enforcement (including hefty fines and possibly even orders to pull a model off the market) for any failure to properly mitigate risks.

Moreover, attention to this type of risk and damage will be crucial in the years to come, as EU legislators will too in processing updating product liability legislation so they cover damage caused by software and AI, which will also make it easier for EU consumers to sue the makers of advanced technologies if their products go wrong.

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