Healthcare systems around the world are grappling with a shortage of nurses — and the situation is reaching crisis point. Last year, the non-profit organisation International Council of Nurses called it a “global health emergency”, and the World Health Organisation estimates that 9m more nurses will be needed by 2030 — all the while fewer are looking to join the profession.
It’s a problem that Danish startup Teton is looking to solve with an AI-driven nursing companion — and it's just raised a $5.3m seed round to expand internationally and grow its team. The round was led by Taavet Hinrikus’s early stage VC firm Plural and stars a number of angels including former Frontline Ventures VC Finn Murphy.
What does an AI nurse look like?
Teton's tech uses “smart” cameras, which are installed in hospitals and care homes. These cameras use computer vision — a type of AI that allows computers to get information from images — to scan the room for patient activity. That’s then fed back to an app to alert nurses when care is needed.
The AI can monitor factors including sleep tracking, bed sore or ulcer warnings and fall warnings, with alerts for high-risk situations. It also writes patient notes to reduce the administrative pressure on nurses.
The startup was founded in February 2020 and spent its first two years developing the technology on a ward at Nykøbing Falster Hospital in Denmark. “We didn’t spend any time on commercial or marketing during that period and just focused on building the customer experience and product,” says Mikkel Wad Thorsen, cofounder and CEO.
Part of that process was training its AI — which it did with 2m images and video sequences of patient data, according to Thorsen. “But there was still data that the system didn’t know how to handle,” he tells Sifted.
For incidents that hadn’t come up in real patient scenarios — but that the AI would need to know how to respond to — Teton did what it calls a “data heist”. It hired actors from a local theatre and nurses from a local nursing school, and over the course of three days acted out scenes of potential scenarios over and over again.
Teton began selling its nursing companion in the middle of 2022 and is currently active in two hospitals and two care homes in Denmark. The company says that the tech can reduce a nurse's workload by 25%, according to its own research.
“We hope to dominate the Nordic market over the next two years,” says Thorsen. Teton currently says it is monitoring 141 patients and has its sights set on hitting 5,000 by the end of 2025.
To get there, it plans to start selling into Norway and Sweden by the end of this year — since they’re all so similar, Teton doesn’t have to do pilots in those countries before launching, Thorsen says.
It also plans to set up pilot programmes in the UK, Germany and the US by the end of 2023. The UK is likely to be the first outside the Nordics, Thorsen tells Sifted, as it's the most similar in terms of regulations and laws.
Teton will use some of the funding round to more than double its employee headcount to 25 by the end of the year, and further down the line will develop the capability of its AI. Over the next couple of years, Thorsen says the startup hopes to expand the tech’s ability to automate more administrative tasks and integrate with electronic health records.
The problem with AI in healthcare
Startups have struggled to transform healthcare with AI. Telehealth giant Babylon saw its AI-driven symptom checker criticised by the UK health regulator after an NHS doctor said it failed to spot serious conditions. Other startups’ AI-driven symptom checkers also ranked far behind doctors in terms of accurate diagnoses, according to one report from 2020.
The problem, according to Thorsen, is that the technology just hasn’t been advanced enough — but times are changing. “Now we’re at a stage where the technology is so good, it’s not holding us back — the productisation and implementation is,” he tells Sifted.
Alongside Teton, a number of other startups are also applying computer vision to patient monitoring. In the UK, one of the best funded is Oxford University spinout Oxehealth, which has raised $15.8m. There’s also US-based AI-driven fall prevention platform SafelyYou — which has raised a total of $59.5m since launching in 2015 — and Florida’s AI sensors for healthcare startup Care.ai, which raised $27m in November 2022.