babylon is an innovative healthcare app that enables users to make an appointment with a consultant in seconds, have that appointment within minutes, and collect relevant prescriptions within an hour. It delivers most of the healthcare that most people need right to the handheld device of the user and can be used anywhere, at any time. Within the app users have constant access to their medical records, can view video recordings of their consultations, and can ask simple questions of trained professionals using the in-app messaging service Ask a Question. babylon is the first organisation of its kind to be registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and have designated body status from NHS England. We talked to founder and CEO, Dr. Ali Parsa, who created the company in 2012 after building Circle, Europe’s largest partnership of Clinicians.
What initially gave you the idea for the Babylon App?
“Throughout the world access to healthcare is becoming more of a problem, while access to almost every other service is becoming freer, faster, and more convenient. People are busier than they have ever been and so the cost of taking time out of work to address basic medical needs is higher. I asked myself, what if I could make booking an appointment as easy as booking a cab? What if I could bring about the same advances in access to healthcare that have already been brought to so many other areas of our lives?”
What do you think is the single biggest benefit of having such an array of healthcare features instantly accessible via a smartphone app?
“The ultimate ambition of Babylon is to move healthcare from a reactive model to a proactive one. We are used to dealing with our health like we used to deal with cars; we’d wait until they broke down and then took 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. We are on the brink of doing that with human beings — we already do it with professional athletes. So much of the cost of healthcare is because we deal with our body the way we used to deal with our cars.”
Do you think the need for people to be able to access important information in such an immediate way, as they can with this app, will continue to increase?
“The vast majority of our interactions with healthcare have very little to do with hospitals, they are mostly simple consultations and diagnostics. Most medicine is conversation and diagnosis. When we get that in the most arcane manner, with phone calls, then having to take half a day off, which is inconvenient, expensive and difficult, will be a thing of the past. As access becomes easier the cost of that access will become less, and individuals will most likely use it more.”
Which element of the healthcare system embodied in the Babylon app do you think most seamlessly lent itself to this new digital platform?
“Most of the elements used are familiar to us. We have seen video calls before, we have all booked something via our smartphones, be it a cinema ticket or a cab. These were the most obvious factors to include.”
Tell us some more about the GP team and Clinicians you have working in conjunction with the app?
“All of our GPs have full GMC registration and have extensive post qualification experience. Our GPs are recruited for their passion for delivering outstanding service, their excellent communication skills and their interest in the evolving role of technology in healthcare. Users can rate the doctors after each video consultation – and consistently below-par scores will see professionals struck off babylon’s records.”
The Babylon app seems to have received a great deal of attention from the press including The BBC and some major newspaper titles. What is it about the app that you think has really caught the attention of the media in this way?
“It’s the worlds first integrated healthcare system. Our current system is inconvenient and expensive. But phones are very, very powerful.”
As well as the benefit of convenience in accessing the expertise of a healthcare professional in this way, do you think there is also perhaps a further additional benefit in potentially reducing the time taken for diagnosis and treatments for conditions where this factor can make a real difference?
“This is what I mean by moving healthcare from reactive to proactive. The more people are able to answer their healthcare questions immediately the more hope they have of remaining healthy. We all know someone who has left a diagnosis to the last minute because they were too busy to take time out to see a doctor, and been told “If we’d caught this earlier, things would have been different.”
Are there any upcoming planned developments or new additions for the App platform?
“In addition to providing consultations, there is also a function called Monitor in the works, which allows patients to keep track of their vitals including activity, calories and sleep, as well as looking at the relevant metrics related to bones, kidney and liver function and hormones.
If we can see you are stressed, with higher blood pressure and cholesterol, clinically we can intervene. At launch Monitor will synchronise with 100 different devices, such as activity trackers and smart scales. It’s all integrated into a single system.
babylon will be able to send some diagnostic tests to your home — for example, you might receive a cholesterol blood test in the post that lets you prick your finger to extract some droplets. This can then be sent back for analysis and the app will be updated for a cost of a couple of pounds every time you need it.”
How can people find out more about the app and its features?
“People can visit our website: babylonhealth.com, or they can download the app for free direct to their apple or android device.”