A Founder's Story

Andrew Bain
25th Aug 2023

Lockdown 2020 gave me an enforced 3 months break from clinical dentistry for the first time in years. This allowed space for family time, settling into our recently purchased house and to reflect on my career in uncertain times. For some time, I had been supplementing my income with freelance coding work and enhancing my skills in web development, data science and artificial intelligence, with the plan to use these skills to solve problems I encounter in my day-to-day experience as a dentist. 

Throughout the first and deepest lockdown, I volunteered to be the on-call dentist every day and take emergency calls. I tried to help as best as I could through advice, reassurance and the prescription pad. I found myself repeating myself a lot, asking the same questions, giving the same answers, and popping a lot of prescriptions through peoples letterboxes. I felt that I could surely automate this process, well at least the advice bit, and set to work on building an AI chatbot to triage patients in the same way I was doing - asking the same questions, trying to elicit the cause of a patient’s problem and giving the appropriate advice.

As I have spent many hours both building and training the AI and machine learning algorithms, my first instinct was to use AI to replace everything; first step chatbot, next step dental drill wielding robot. However, the more I talked to patients, the more antibiotics I dropped at little old ladies’ front doors, the more I realised that perhaps AI is not the whole answer. At least not the AI we have now. And maybe that’s a good thing. 

From my reading on the subject my understanding is that AI in its current iteration is still essentially pattern matching – extremely complex pattern matching but pattern matching none the less. Now that may be, sort of, how our brains learn but I believe that despite the claims of some, we are still some way off artificial general intelligence. However we are advancing at a ferocious pace especially in the field of natural language processing (NLP). NLP is a blend of linguistics, computer science and artificial intelligence which covers the interaction between human language and computers. This field has had a huge bump in the last few years since the advent of a new type of algorithms called transformers. These transformer models have hugely improved the ability of computers to take in words, transform them into huge matrices of numbers, perform complicated linear algebraic computations on them and from that sort of "understand" what those words mean. The implications and use-cases of this are huge and I even use them in my chatbot!

But I digress, my realisation was that automating the repetitive tasks is the only part of it. What I was really tapping into was the most human of desires – communication. If I could build a system that could use the power of digital tools and artificial intelligence to SUPPORT human interaction and not replace it then perhaps I was on to something. 

I believe through my years working as a dentist that dental teams that can really communicate, both to their patients and to each other fly, while those who don’t limp into obscurity. Most of the problems I have encountered in over 20 years of dental practice stem from poor communication. I want Ouch to help give dental practices that superpower and everything we have built since this realisation has been crafted with that goal in mind. And thus, Ouch was born.

Our chatbot will site on a dental practice's website and use some of these clever algorithms to find out as much as possible about a patient before presenting that information to the team on our dashboard, the dashboard in turn reminds staff members to follow up appropriately using our video functionality or encrypted chat interface. Our mobile app allows patients to find a dentist offering the services they require and once connected to the practice becomes their communication portal with the practice and even the dentist if appropriate. Our practice and dentist dashboards provide the practice staff and dentists numerous tools for managing their new and existing patients more efficiently, making patients happy and practices less stressed and more profitable.

This are just some journeys through which a patients and dentists can take as we strive to automate the boring stuff and allow the professional dental practice staff to do what they do best - be human.

If you are a dental practice or a group of dental practice then why not get in touch with us and find out more

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