The Small British Start-Up That Is Revolutionising Healthcare
Babylon Health, founded by Ali Parsa in 2013, is a UK start-up that aims to change the global healthcare industry by planning to allow universal accessibility by implementing affordable packages and services to patients in every nation through the merits of artificial intelligence powered tools to bring about a rapid revolution in the health sector, has recently secured a $50 million investment from the Missouri-based $21 billion giant Centene into its ‘GP at Hand’ application, which is currently experiencing a funding round led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (with their sovereign fund handing over $200 million)that should be announced soon by Babylon Health officially, it is taking a quick traction after numerous investments and endorsements, such as the latter from our Health Secretary Matt Hancock, meaning the booming company will be worth near $1.5 billion after the next funding round, and is already a major contributor to healthcare technology in the United Kingdom and Rwanda, but the company hopes to widen its horizon with services spreading to the Middle East, China and the United States. Although Babylon Health has come under fire for serious incidents of misdiagnosis, its ‘GP at Hand’ application is believed to be vital to reducing the overburdening of doctors and prevent the wastage of hospital resources where it is not needed, this application alone is an exemplar representation of Babylon Health’s hope to combine the clinical apt of hospital fellows with the computational and distributive powers of AI to bring access to healthcare universally.
After making a significant splash in the Google Play and App store, the GP At Hand app has reflected the company’s aim for universal access after the ‘talk to a doctor’ feature via the app which allows consumers to directly engage with a healthcare professional through audio or video calling, from which potential patients can attain advice, answer any queries, ponder treatment and can even deliver prescriptions to a patient’s home address! Babylon Health also claims that the patient’s records and digital history are secured in a protected digital environment, with the patient being able to review any notes or audio, which can be accessed and referenced in the future which is very similar to how the NHS is digitizing their own systems. Another popular feature is ‘Healthcheck’, which utilisies the expertise of doctors and scientists to form a potent tool that can relate family history and lifestyle (via comparison to a purpose built database) to generate a health report to grant insightful advice to prevent ill health. Babylon Health’s own engineers and scientists alongside doctors have developed the AI system from scratch, and it has been focused on taking data about a patient’s notable symptoms, then compare it with a database of known illnesses to assess which it is the most fitting or likely given the patient’s set of symptoms, then supply a course of action for the patient and give advice on the do’s and don’t’s of their potential current state. The ‘Ask Babylon’ feature lets a consumer directly query about any of their concerns and assume a rough idea of what they could expect or be dealing with, but this is not intended to replace a true healthcare expert.
Especially after Matt Hancock’s public appreciation of the app, the GP at Hand app has coerced over 51,000 people to download and use the app just in London zones, and operates directly through the NHS via the Hammersmith and Fulham clinical commissioning group (CCG). However, the CCG has seen rising cots since the popularity of the app has been national, as they have to pay for the services and prescriptions for all its registered users in the UK.Hence, although the GP at Hand app is aimed to lower the costs for the NHS by easing the strain on hospital resources, it will be a challenge to sustain and manage the growing popularity but strain on the Hammersmith and Fulham CCG, which could cause damaging effects of the Hospital funding in the area. However, a main criticism is that the app is not ‘really’ universal, it is generally agreed that an ageing population has a massive impact on the NHS, but the ‘trendy’ app is not going to be a hit with traditional elderly patients who are unlikely to use mobile technologies instead of the direct doctor-patient relationship they have endured for years. Perhaps this app only suits those who live in work-focused lifestyles, and is rather redundant for those who would prefer a real clinical experience and do not consider it a great inconvenience to visit a hospital. Although the app and the company are having a great ‘spot’ in their life cycle, there are clear examples of the AI services provided by Babylon Health being severely sub-par in comparison to a clinical expert, with watchdogs criticising its accuracy. Twitter user @DrMurphy11 who is a NHS consultant, posted a tweet, where he (being a consultant) directly opposed the advice given by the app. Although the start-up claims that its own tests revealed an 80% accuracy in its system, Babylon explicitly commented that the service was never intended to replaced a healthcare professional, but rather to reduce the severity of waiting times and to answer the current global shortage of doctors and other healthcare professionals, and that their services are just one option for patients who may not have the time or convenience to visit a doctor. Although misdiagnosis is an issue at large for this application, much more rigorous testing from an independent source is required before this AI service can be trusted with more serious complications that only a healthcare professional could address. There are clear imperfections in the system, but Babylon shows that artificial intelligence has come a long way, and is clearly on the way to becoming a trusted day-to-day service, but this could be a long way. For those using GP at Hand, for acute situations, it is almost certain you should consult a healthcare professional directly but for general queries and oddities, you might get away with using the app alone, although a second opinion from your GP would not be horrible! Luckily, artificial intelligence can learn very quickly and be easily developed, so there is no telling how this app could progress in the future. For technology fanatics such as myself, although I accept that this is by no means a finished product, the pure thought of having clinical healthcare directly at your fingertips gives me a true feeling of euphoria!
A kind thank you to Ali Parsa and Babylon Health for their great services that will definitely help to alleviate the overburdening of doctors that we can no longer accept in the NHS, and I hope that they can refine the app to be a forefront representation of what AI can achieve when it has been trained and researched fully.
Article thumbnail credit: Babylon Health raises further $60M to continue building out AI doctor app, TechCrunch [click here for page]. Note that this article has not contributed to any of the written content of my article, and that you click the above link at your own discretion as the page has not been checked by our team.
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