Ada Health Adds Swahili to Expand its Global Reach

By Patricia Salber, MD, MBA | Published 2/21/2019 0

Ada app open on smartphone (courtesy of Ada Health) 2000 x 1125

Photo courtesy of Ada Health.

Ada Health is doing its part to deliver on the vision that

“every person in the world should have access to quality, personalized health information, and care.”

The company’s new Global Health Initiative will help them make their health guidance “Ada app” more accessible in even more places in the world.

Ada was founded in 2011 by CEO Daniel Nathrath, an internet business development executive, Chief Medical Officer Claire Novorol, M.D, a former pediatrician with a Ph.D. in neuroscience, and Dr. Martin Hirsch, a neuroscientist and grandson of Nobel Laureate Werner Heisenberg.

They now lead an international multi-disciplinary team of physicians, geneticists, neuroscientists, and engineers.

Ada launched worldwide in 2016 with its free-to-download health guidance app. And, according to Nathrath, it has been “ranked the number one medical app in over 130 countries worldwide.” 

Related story: Is the Future of Healthcare Digital?

What is the Ada app?

Ada describes its app as an “an AI-powered symptom assessment and care direction platform that is powered by artificial intelligence (AI)”.* It is designed to help people understand their health and navigate to the right care.

According to the company, the app was built using “the power of artificial intelligence to process massive amounts of data and make connections faster than humanly possible.

More than 40 medical doctors have been building the knowledge base for the last several years. In addition to reviewing the literature, they have incorporated much of what they have learned from their real-life clinical cases.

Dr. Novorol refers to their work as “human-curated medical knowledge.”  This, of course, is the foundational element of AI’s so-called “black box”.[1] 

She goes on to say that the AI-powered platform has been “trained” over the past seven years “to recognize thousands of conditions, symptoms and infinite symptom combinations.

When used as a clinical decision support tool, the company suggests that the platform can not only help identify rare disease but do so more quickly than unaided clinical approaches which may require innumerable doctor visits and tests over the course of months to years.

Easy to understand language is key

The platform’s “conversational interface” lets users check their symptoms by answering simple, personalized questions about their health.

The app then builds and stores an overview of users’ health (i.e., allergies, medications, symptoms). The personal health information is secure, up to date, and accessible from any smartphone. According to Ada, this provides a “scalable solution that can be used to drive mass adoption.”

Also, according to Novorol, because the language used in the app is simple and short, there isn’t an issue with literacy.

Related story: How to Improve Patient Retention in Virtual Care

Ada Health’s New Global Health Initiative

Ada’s current key markets include the US, UK, Germany, India and the Philippines. But, over one-third of Ada’s users come from rural and less developed healthcare markets such as Africa, India and other parts of Asia. 

Ada launched its Global Health Initiative in October 2018, with the goal to increase access to primary care in underserved areas worldwide.

Their powerful new partners on this mission are world-renowned philanthropies including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and Fondation Botnar. 

The need for the Global Health Initiative

Ada underscores the need for the new initiative noting that half the world lacks access to basic health services. This will be exacerbated by a shortage of health workers that is estimated to reach 18 million by 2030.

To address this problem, the Ada Global Health Initiative will combine

“artificial intelligence, human medical expertise and the power of mobile technology to deliver health access to care and guidance at scale.”

The ability to expand their impact in developing countries is why Ada is partnering with organizations that share their mission to

“make quality, personalized care a reality for everyone.”

The Gates Foundation

Under the initiative, Ada will be researching the efficacy of AI-powered self-assessment technology in two areas:

  • recommending specific diagnostic tests 
  • improving patient outcomes for specific diseases and geographies.

They will “analyze millions of self-assessment cases from Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, South America, and India to identify the diagnostic tests that, when combined with rigorous and accurate AI, deliver the greatest impact in lower and middle-income countries.

Identifying needed diagnostic tests to better support healthcare workers at the point-of-care may significantly impact patient outcomes. Early identification may also potentially limit the spread of disease epidemics such as malaria and tuberculosis.

Fondation Botnar: Adding East Africa and Romania

Through the partnership with Botnar, Ada will become the first health guidance app to feature the Swahili language.

This will help make Ada’s health assessment technology available to more than 100 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is the latest milestone in bringing the technology to anyone with smartphone access.

The partnership also adds Romanian to support vulnerable children and families. These languages expand their existing language options (English, Spanish, Portuguese and French and German).

The partnership highlights the foundation’s interest in exploring innovative approaches to support health workers. With AI-enabled help, professionals can “extend their knowledge base to better assess and guide patients when a doctor isn’t immediately available.

The initiative is projected to reach two million people in East Africa and Romania in the first three years.

Back in the US, partnering with Sutter Health

Building on the trend for personalized digital health support, Ada and Sutter Health just announced a partnership to give Sutter’s members access to Ada’s app. The collaboration will integrate Ada’s AI-powered symptom assessment and care direction platform into Sutter Health’s website and patient portal.

Sutter’s more than three million members can use Ada to assess their symptoms by answering a series of questions. The app then presents results of what the likely causes may be.

The Ada app also suggests “appropriate care options, from self-care to attending a walk-in clinic or – for more urgent cases – seeking emergency care.

Sutter’s Albert Chan, M.D., who leads the Digital Patient Experience team, says that the platform,

  • “takes care of the symptom intake tasks which allows doctors to devote more time to patient care, and 
  • empowers our patients to better manage their own healthcare.

By accessing an earlier, “holistic” health assessment, patients can make informed decisions, save time and avoid unnecessary costs.

The bottom line

No matter where you live getting the right healthcare at the right time is critical. Sophisticated technology, like that underpinning the Ada app, can help meet that need.

However, as Nathrath observes,

“There are still immense barriers to healthcare access and growing complexities. Now more than ever, we need to work together to improve outcomes and costs for patients, providers, and payers. And we need to unlock new possibilities.”

Today’s healthcare environment is a “perfect storm” of several different forces. They include

  • the movement towards personalized care
  • health professional shortages
  • the integration of AI into digital health

This has opened up tremendous opportunities for Ada Health. It is good to see that they are moving rapidly to expand their capabilities as well as their reach.


1. “Want to Know What Makes AI Work?”  Pat Salber M.D video interview of Kevin Lyman, COO of AI-powered diagnostics company, Enlitic.

*Unless otherwise noted, the material in quotes comes from my interview with Daniel Nathrath during the 2019 JP Morgan meetings and materials supplied by the company.

Many thanks to healthcare communication and public affairs consultant, Leslie Rose, for her expert assistance in the preparation of this story.

Patricia Salber, MD, MBA


Patricia Salber, MD, MBA is the Founder. CEO, and Editor-in-Chief of The Doctor Weighs In (TDWI). Founded in 2005 as a single-author blog, it has evolved into a multi-authored, multi-media health information site with a global audience. She has worked hard to ensure that TDWI is a trusted resource for health information on a wide variety of health topics. Moreover, Dr. Salber is widely acknowledged as an important contributor to the health information space, including having been honored by LinkedIn as one of ten Top Voices in Healthcare in both 2017 and 2018.

Dr. Salber has a long list of peer-reviewed publications as well as publications in trade and popular press. She has published two books, the latest being “Connected Health: Improving Care, Safety, and Efficiency with Wearables and IoT solutions. She has hosted podcasts and video interviews with many well-known healthcare experts and innovators. Spreading the word about health and healthcare innovation is her passion.

She attended the University of California Berkeley for her undergraduate and graduate studies and UC San Francisco for medical school, internal medicine residency, and endocrine fellowship. She also completed a Pew Fellowship in Health Policy at the affiliated Institute for Health Policy Studies. She earned an MBA with a health focus at the University of California Irvine.

She joined Kaiser Permanente (KP)where she practiced emergency medicine as a board-certified internist and emergency physician before moving into administration. She served as the first Physician Director for National Accounts at the Permanente Federation. And, also served as the lead on a dedicated Kaiser Permanente-General Motors team to help GM with its managed care strategy. GM was the largest private purchaser of healthcare in the world at that time. After leaving KP, she worked as a physician executive in a number of health plans, including serving as EVP and Chief Medical Officer at Universal American.

She consults and/or advises a wide variety of organizations including digital start-ups such as CliniOps, My Safety Nest, and Doctor Base (acquired). She currently consults with Duty First Consulting as well as Faegre, Drinker, Biddle, and Reath, LLP.

Pat serves on the Board of Trustees of MedShare, a global humanitarian organization. She chairs the organization’s Development Committee and she also chairs MedShare's Western Regional Council.

Dr. Salber is married and lives with her husband and dog in beautiful Marin County in California. She has three grown children and two granddaughters with whom she loves to travel.

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