Babylon, a UK start-up, plans to “put an accessible and affordable health service in the hands of every person on earth” by putting artificial intelligence (AI) tools to work. Currently, the company has operations in the UK and Rwanda and hopes to expand to the Middle East, the United States, and China. The company’s strategy is to combine the power of AI with the medical expertise of humans to deliver unparalleled access to healthcare.
Services Babylon Offers
Babylon’s engineers, doctors, and scientists developed an AI system that can receive data about the symptoms someone is suffering from, compare the information to a database of known conditions and illnesses to find possible matches, and then identify a course of action and related risk factors. People can use the “Ask Babylon” feature to inquire about their medical concerns to get an initial understanding of what they might be dealing with, but this service is not intended to replace the expertise of a doctor or be used in a medical emergency.
In pursuit of its mission, Babylon offers a “talk to a doctor” service via its app, GP at Hand that provides 24/7 access to healthcare professionals through video or audio conferencing. The app can be downloaded from Google Play or the App Store. At the consultation, doctors can give medical advice, answer questions, discuss treatment, and can order prescriptions that can be delivered to a patient’s door. All of the patient’s clinical records are stored in a secure environment, and their health history can be accessed and referenced when it’s needed. If a patient needs to revisit their appointment, they can review the medical notes and replay a recording of the appointment at any time.
Another feature that is available on the app is Healthcheck. Built with the support of doctors, scientists and disease experts, this AI tool can take answers from questions about family history and a person’s lifestyle and compare it to the medical database to then create a health report and insights to help someone stay healthy.
GP at Hand App’s Popularity and Growing Pains
Even Matt Hancock, theUK health secretary, champions the GP at Hand app and more than 51,000 people across London have downloaded it. The app operates through the Hammersmith and Fulham clinical commissioning group, a National Health Service (NHS) body for the area. In fact, the app hasten times more patients registered than the practice it took over from. Since the clinical commissioning group (CCG) is required to pay for the healthcare of all the patients registered on the app—even if they do not live in Hammersmith and Fulham—the popularity of the app has pushed up the costs for the CCG. In addition, the app has been criticized for attracting younger users, leaving traditional practices shouldering the burden of higher costs for caring for an aging population. The GP at Hand app and artificial intelligence technology is expected to ultimately lower overall costs for NHS; however, the current situation of how to handle the app’s popularity straining one CCG and to determine how to fit the app into the NHS’s financial structure still need to be resolved.
In other examples, it’s clear that the GP at Hand app and the AI used to power its recommendations needs to continue to train and get better. Some industry watchdogs have pointed out that the chatbot doctor onGP at Hand misadvised action in a potentially life-threatening situation that required immediate medical attention. More rigorous and independent testing is still necessary before AI can be completely trusted with life or death advice.
The start-up claims that in its own tests, the AI system was spot on80 percent of the time and that the tool was never designed to completely replace the advice of a real doctor, but actually to reduce waiting times and to help doctors make more accurate decisions. The world is facing an extreme shortage of doctors and medical professionals, and tech such as what Babylon offers is one way to help improve the healthcare of millions of people.According to NHS England, “Each safety case [of Babylon] meets the standards required by NHS and has been completed using a robust assessment methodology to a high standard.”
While it might not be a perfect system, Babylon shows that artificial intelligence has progressed enough to work alongside healthcare professionals and can be a beneficial tool. But, patients still need to remain to be their own fierce healthcare advocates. If the advice received from artificial intelligence doesn’t seem to hit the mark, it’s good advice to request a second opinion—from a human.