Infinitus emerges from stealth with $21.4M for ‘voice RPA’ aimed at healthcare companies – TechCrunch
Robotic process automation (RPA) has found a permanent place in the world of corporate IT through the effective use of AI and other technologies to automate repetitive tasks and allow people to focus on more complicated work. Today, a startup called Infinitus is coming out of the shadows to apply this concept to the world of healthcare – specifically to accelerate the process of voice communication between companies in the fragmented US healthcare industry.
Infinitus uses “Voice RPA” to become the machine-generated voice that health care providers or pharmacies, for example, use to call insurance companies to answer a series of questions (addressed to people on the other end) that usually need to be answered beforehand are payments authorized and other procedures can take place. These conversations are then added to the Infinitus platform to search them for relevant information which is entered in the correct fields to trigger any action required as a result of the calls.
The startup is leaving “stealth mode” today, but has been around for a number of years and has won a number of large healthcare companies as customers – for example the drug wholesaler AmerisourceBergen. And it is contributing its technology free of charge to public health efforts related to the current coronavirus pandemic. One organization is currently using them to automate a mass calling system in multiple states to get a better idea of vaccine availability and to link the earliest doses to the most vulnerable groups who need them the fastest.
In January alone, 75,000 calls were made for 12,000 providers.
Infinitus’ public launch also brings a funding kicker: the company has received $ 21.4 million in Series A funding from a group of well-known investors to help build the business.
The round is jointly chaired by Kleiner Perkins and Coatue, which also includes Gradient Ventures (Google’s early-stage AI fund), Quiet Capital, Firebolt Ventures and Tau Ventures, as well as individual investments by a selection of executives from around the world of AI and Big Tech: Ian Goodfellow, Gokul Rajaram, Aparna Chennapragada and Qasar Younis.
“Coatue is proud to have spearheaded Serie A in Infinitus,” said Yanda Erlich, general partner at Coatue. “We firmly believe in the transformative power of RPA and enterprise automation. We believe that Infinitus’s VoiceRPA solution will enable healthcare organizations to automate previously costly and manual calls and faxes and enable those organizations to see the benefits of end-to-end process automation. “
The problem Infinitus deals with is the fact that the healthcare industry, especially in the privatized US market, has a lot of time consuming and often confusing red tape when it comes to getting things done. Many of the most immediate weaknesses in this process are voice calls, which are the primary basis for critical communication between different entities in the ecosystem.
Voice calls are used to initiate most processes, be it to get important information, track a form or previous communication, share some data or of course provide clearance for a payment.
There are 900 million calls of this type in the United States, with an average call duration of 35 minutes and an average medical professional working in administrative roles to make these calls, spending approximately 4.5 hours on the phone each day.
All of this ultimately adds to the exorbitant cost of health care services in the United States (and probably some of the unfathomable fees you might see on bills), not to mention delays in care. (And these volumes underline what a small piece of infinitus touches today.)
Co-founder and CEO Ankit Jain – a repeat entrepreneur and ex-Googler who held senior engineering positions and was a founding partner at Gradient at the search giant – told TechCrunch in an interview that he first came up with the idea for Infinitus a couple of times years ago when he was still at Gradient.
“We noticed many improvements in voice communication technology, converting text to speech and speech to text. I realized that it would soon be possible to automate phone calls where one machine could have a full conversation with someone. “
In fact, Google itself had launched Duplex by that time, a service based on the same principle but aimed at consumers so that people can book appointments, restaurant tables, and other services.
He found that the ability to speak like a human and understand natural language is not the only or even the main problem in enterprise applications like healthcare that rely on certain jargon and certain scenarios that are likely less than more like actual human interactions.
“I thought if someone wanted to build this for healthcare it would change it,” he said. And so he decided to do just that.
Jain, who co-founded the company with Shyam Rajagopalan, the CTO who was previously at Snap, and Jain at his previous startup Quettra as well as Google, said Infinitus Public Cloud uses speech-to-text systems but the processing is natural Language and the flows for triage and use of the information obtained from the conversations are created internally.
The specialization in content and interactions may also be a reason why Infinitus couldn’t be so quick to worry about cannibalization from bigger RPA players, at least for now.
Jain notes, however, that much of the technology is vertical-agnostic: this is both an argument for Infinitus to expand into areas outside of health care and a sign that others might be able to build something to compete with it .
The fact that services like this – the new generation of robocalls, so to speak – can sound “lifelike” like real people was something that consumer versions have sought, although it has not always worked out for the best. Duplex, for example, was criticized in its early days because its excellent quality could actually be misleading as users didn’t realize they were talking to a computer that was logging their responses in a data usage exercise. Jain notes that Infinitus purposely chooses voices that sound like bots to make this clear to those who are taking the calls.
He said this also “helps reduce the chatter in the conversation” and keeps the person speaking on the business.
In this regard, while Infinitus appears to work like other voice RPA services connected to live agents who can take calls when they get difficult, it doesn’t really need to be used.
“Today we no longer have to struggle with people because we see sufficiently high success rates with our system,” he said.
You may be wondering why the healthcare industry hasn’t moved completely past the voice? Surely there are ways to exchange data between entities so calls are stale? It turns out that isn’t going to change quickly, at least for now, Jain said.
Part of this is that the fragmentation of the market makes it difficult to implement new standards across the board that cover hundreds of insurance payers, healthcare providers, pharmaceuticals, billing and collection companies, and more.
And when it comes down to it, a phone call is the easiest route for many administrators, who typically have to deal with 100 different payment companies and other companies with different logging mechanisms each.
“It’s a lot of cognitive strain, so it’s often easier just to pick up the phone,” Jain said.
Introducing VoiceRPA like Infinitus is part of this long haul to upgrade the larger system.
“By automating one side, we’re showing the other side that it can be done,” Jain said. “There are just too many players right now and getting them to agree on a standard is a daunting task. That is why they try to win one small piece at a time. It shouldn’t be a voice, but by the time standards bodies agree otherwise, the world will have moved on. “