A hugely exciting development in the world of m-health is the launch of Babylon, a subscription health service and mobile app that allows you to book virtual consultations with doctors and at the same time track symptoms and receive prescriptions.
The system is not design to replace face to face consultations but to reduce the number face to face consultation required, cutting the burden on the NHS and associated costs with it. It’s also more convenient for patients being able to arrange virtual consultations at their convenience without having to take time off work and within a timeframe that suits them. The company behind Babylon will keep all notes and videos from any consultation undertaken which, with the permission of the patient will share with other healthcare professionals like their GP.
The ultimate ambition of Babylon is to move healthcare from a reactive model to a proactive one. Ali Parsa explains “We are used to dealing with our health like we used to deal with cars; we’d wait until they broke down and then take them to the mechanics. Now cars have sensors all over them so it doesn’t matter what’s going wrong, we know ahead of time.”
Although Babylon won’t suit everyone, particularly those who have yet to own a smart phone, this is a huge leap forward in proving an integrated service designed to give patients a choice while providing referral and testing services.
However, trying to access the app has proved challenging. It’s easy enough to download but using iOS, the sign up form is painful in its execution with a date selector that won’t stay on the day you’ve selected, returning to a default value of 4 and when a mistake is made and the next button is used, it overwrites exiting values already included on the form. Android is fine. Once the submission has been made, you’re then presented with a screen explaining that you cannot have access to the service yet and you’ll be informed as part of a rollout programme. This is really poor and should have been made clear well before the download was made. There is also nothing to support this from their website and no information about pricing for example if you had to sign up to a minimum contract length or you could just pay for a month at a time.
Whether it’s a success or not will depend on how well the business can be scaled to cope with demand, which they are clearly having problems with already and many people are comfortable talking to a virtual ‘locum’ GP rather than their trusted local GP. Opening up to a complete stranger about health issues, even at your own surgery, can seem quite daunting and the mere convenience of being able to do this via an app may not be enough of an incentive to use the service.