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Forta raises $55 million to train parents to care for their autistic children

In a world where access to health care is disproportionately skewed by geography and income, Fort Zdravlje raised a significant round of funding to level the playing field a bit.

The company says it aims to democratize access to healthcare by using artificial intelligence tools, including large-scale language models, to empower caregivers and improve clinical treatments. His approach not only makes strides in healthcare delivery, but also reduces the gap in healthcare availability in geographic regions where access to physicians is inadequate.

A key concern for the company is managing the increased number of diagnoses for conditions such as autism, Alzheimer’s and chronic diseases — and a desperate shortage of professionals to help provide support.

Forta Health’s first products are aimed at treating autism. The company relies on applied behavior analysis (ABA), which is received a lot of criticism in the autistic community. The main concern is that ABA is often Frthey are very controlling and focus on changing behavior to conform to social norms rather than understanding underlying needs or perspectives. Access it primarily focuses on modifying visible behaviors. Critics argue that this approach may overlook the underlying cognitive and emotional processes of the individual.

Forta defends his approach, saying it differs in some significant ways from the ABA approach of the bad old days.

«WI’m thinking of applying applied behavior analysis as a method to analyze behavior and then provide reinforcement that will either promote positive behavior or extinguish negative, maladaptive behavior. Some of the reinforcements and rewards of the very early applications of ABA were Machiavellian, such as restraints, electric shocks, and so on. That’s a thing of the past now,” explains Christian Smith, co-founder and CMO at Forta Health, in an interview with TechCrunch. “The way we think about it with a trauma-informed approach with the least restraint.”

Ritankar Das, Forta’s co-founder and CEO, emphasizes the challenge of providing consistent, quality care under the current healthcare system.

«Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, we use a personalized approach. We do this by using an AI model that adjusts the treatment plan. That’s a really important part because we’re still learning a lot about this, and as a species, the understanding of the biology is still pretty rough in some areas,” says Das.

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A key issue the company is trying to address is that children with autism have a lot of support already given by the family. Forta Health wants to ensure that these parents have professional support and training so that they can provide better quality care.

Das explains that historically caregiving began within the family unit, stretching back to small tribes in the early days of our species. Despite technological advances, especially in the last century, which have significantly reduced mortality rates, healthcare systems continue to face challenges. We have made great strides in the treatment of acute conditions such as infectious diseases, as demonstrated by the successful handling of COVID-19. However, we struggle with chronic care and mental health issues, often turning health care into a reactive «hospital care» system. Although technology has extended life expectancy and improved certain aspects of health, the company says that as an institution, healthcare has not adequately responded to the rise in chronic conditions. This means that a lot of care falls on families and that family care remains vital. Forta Health is exploring how to improve family care with the help of technology, especially for chronic conditions and areas where the healthcare system is lagging behind.

Zooming in on the current product offering, the CEO says ABA’s origins were in family studies showing its effectiveness and positive results. This approach has changed over time, but the company focuses on returning to the original ABA approach, which it says empowers families by providing skills for lifelong management of a condition that affects individuals beyond childhood.

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The company says it has partnered with seven of the top 10 US health insurance providers and more than two dozen state government schemes and is bringing its AI resources to as many patients as possible. The $55 million war chest allows the company to look beyond autism, and the team suggests that family care is a far bigger opportunity than autism itself.

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