|Headquarters||London, United Kingdom|
Babylon is a subscription health service provider that enables users to have virtual consultations with doctors and health care professionals via text and video messaging through its mobile application. The service also allows users to receive drug prescriptions, referrals to health specialists, and book health exams with nearby facilities.
The English company was founded in 2013 by Ali Parsa and was the first service of its kind to be registered with the Care Quality Commission, the health care services regulator and inspector in England. As of January 2016, Babylon has raised $25M in funding from its Series A round. Its investors include Hoxton Ventures, Kinnevik AB as well as the founders of Google DeepMind. In April 2017, it raised a further $60 million to develop its artificial intelligence capabilities.
In June 2018, the company announced an arrangement with Bupa to make the technology available to corporate customers. This will include a “digital twin” service which allows patients to tap parts of their body with a smartphone and get medical assessments. This follows arrangements with Samsung and Tencent.
Users can choose to subscribe to a monthly fee and gain unlimited virtual access to general practitioners, or opt for a pay-as-you-go model. The app enables users to confidentially send text messages, photos, and video inquiries to the company's team of health care professionals that include doctors, nurses, and therapists. The app is available for iOS and Android mobile devices.
It has been trialled in two GP practices at Eastwood Group Practices, Southend, and Highlands Surgery, Leigh-on-Sea, since March 2015. Patients can check their symptoms for a diagnosis, chat with their GP face-to-face via a video link and order prescriptions. It started a 12-month trial with the staff of Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in December 2016. Its AI-powered chatbot ‘triage’ service is being tested as an alternative to the NHS 111 telephone service.
Parsa was reported as asking “Why couldn’t Babylon be a patient’s NHS GP?” in March 2017. There were complaints about the company claiming that it had the “world’s best doctors” and the “world’s most advanced AI [artificial intelligence].” In June 2018, the company announced that its AI had the ability to diagnose health issues as well as a human doctor. Babylon's claims have been widely disputed and are currently under scrutiny from the UK government and physician groups, mostly related to underperformance and a refusal to apply standard good scientific practices of peer review.
Users are able to send questions and set up consultations with Babylon's GPs. The service is meant to answer questions for common medical topics such as fever, sore throat, allergies, skin irritations, and colds. If prescriptions are required, they are mailed to the user's address, or sent to a pharmacy for pickup. Users also have the option to consult with therapists to discuss topics such as depression and anxiety. At the end of the consultations, users are able to review their experience anonymously.
Users can sync their activity trackers' data with the app for health monitoring. This data, which can include things such as number of calories, sleep, pulse, and stress levels, can then be used to build a health plan for the user.
Test and kits
Babylon provides a delivery service for test kits that users can request. These diagnostic kits can be used for testing things such as diabetes, cholesterol, and sugar levels. Users can send the samples back to Babylon Health, and access the results through their app.
In June 2016, Babylon pitted its AI against a senior A&E nurse and a junior doctor from Oxford University. UCL Professor Irwin Nazareth compared the results and revealed Babylon's AI was consistently faster and more accurate in triaging patients than its human counterparts. The AI achieved 92% accuracy compared to the doctor's 82% and the nurse's 77%, though these statistics were for the correct diagnosis being captured as one of the top 10 results returned, with the correct diagnosis returning as the top result just slightly more than 40% of the time.
GP at Hand
A new service using Babylon technology was launched in November 2017 in London. It claimed that patients could 'book an appointment within seconds' via its smartphone app and have 'a video consultation with an NHS GP typically in under two hours of booking, anytime, anywhere'. Patients are registered with the practice, GP at hand partnership, online via the website - and deregistered from their exiting general practice. It was criticised as promoting "inequitable access to NHS-branded GP services." by the British Medical Association. The practice defended itself by pointing out that payments were made under the standard GP contract: “Global sum makes up the bulk of payments to practices, and allocates funding in accordance with the Carr-Hill formula. This formula takes into consideration, along with other practice characteristics, individual patients' age, gender and health conditions and calculates a "weighted" count of patients according to need. This means that two practices with the same number of patients may have very different weighted patient numbers due to widely varying patient characteristics and health conditions, and as a result, these practices which may seem to be similar in terms of list size, could receive very different levels of funding.” 
A list of patients advised not to register with the service was published:
- Women who are or may be pregnant
- Adults with a safeguarding need
- People living with complex mental health conditions
- People with complex physical, psychological and social needs
- People living with dementia
- Older people with conditions related to frailty
- People requiring end of life care
- Parents of children who are on the ‘Child at risk’ protection register
- People with learning difficulties
- People with drug dependence
Conventional practices are not permitted to refuse to register patients based on factors of these kinds.
The GP at hand partnership is based in Lillie Road Health Centre in Fulham. Before the launch of the app it had 4,000 patients.There is no charge to patients for GP services and the services is financed through a General medical services contract as are conventional GPs. Face to face appointments are available at six locations in central London. By February 2018 it was providing about 2,000 10-minute video consultations a week, 30% outside normal 8am-8pm GP opening hours, and with many of the doctors working from home. In May 2018 Hammersmith and Fulham Clinical commissioning group was looking for an additional £18 million to meet the cost of the 26,000 patients now registered with the practice. Almost all of the new patients are in the 20-64 age group, with three-quarters under 35.
Matt Hancock called for it to be available across England in September 2018. Richard Vautrey claimed this could lead to ‘significant destabilisation’ of general practice because it would need a completely different model of funding for general practice which he felt was not likely. Hancock said at the Conservative Party conference in October 2018: "I know the arrival of GP at Hand has complicated the way that GP services are funded and commissioned because technically everybody moves on to a list somewhere in Fulham… but that’s because that’s how the old rules operated so we need to change those rules".
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