BABYLON HEALTH has become one of the breakout stars of the current class of UK tech start-ups, but several insiders have suggested that things aren't what they seem.
The company, which has contracts to provide NHS services in the UK, uses, amongst its real-life medical staff, an AI chat-bot to do initial triage and basic diagnosis with patients, in an attempt to get quick results to simple cases.
One current and one former member of Babylon staff have gone on record with Forbes, claiming that it misses 10-15 per cent of warning signs of serious conditions, and that a group of clinicians had gone straight to Ali Parsa, founder and CEO as recently as last Friday in an attempt to stall a planned software drop.
But Babylon isn't taking things lying down and has hit back strongly at the claims that the Forbes article "used a distorted lens to magnify the views of a few anonymous individuals whilst ignoring the findings from multiple government regulators, dismissed the integrity of the hundreds of doctors who work with us and ignored the lengths we have gone to as we have shared our science with the world."
It goes on to rebuke suggestions that it was ever designed to replace the advice of a real doctor: "Our aim is to use technology to empower doctors to make more accurate decisions and to reduce waiting times for patients - after all, how safe is it to be kept waiting for medical attention?"
It adds that in its own tests, the bot was bang on 80 per cent of the time, which in such a fledgeling industry, is a pretty impressive bit of neural networking magic.
In the UK, Babylon offers appointments with online doctors by video call via its widely advertised GP at Hand app, as well as the initial triage by AI.
NHS England said: "The DCB 0129 safety cases submitted by Babylon and GP at hand for each of the Babylon technology products used in the GP at hand service have been considered. These are the Artificial Intelligence symptom checker, the Babylon clinical portal, and the Babylon Healthcheck service. Each safety case meets the standards required by the NHS and has been completed using a robust assessment methodology to a high standard."
Babylon adds: "The globe is facing a drastic shortage of doctors and for many people healthcare is simply too expensive. We are working to help improve the lives of millions of people and we are doing so whilst meeting, and often surpassing, all the required regulations. Technology can be part of the answer to these problems - our 11 peer-reviewed publications are testament to this.
"Babylon's aim is to put accessible and affordable healthcare into the hands of everyone on earth and we will continue in this endeavour."
Babylon is amongst a gaggle of big names who are bringing AI to healthcare. Google DeepMind, for example, works in partnership with London hospitals to monitor kidney patients remotely, to save them coming in if their vitals are normal. More recently it has started using AI for ocular screening, spotting potential problems invisible to the naked eye.
The message is clear - common sense is at the heart of this whole endeavour. AI is now mature enough to work alongside the health service and holds many benefits, but if you start coughing up blood and an AI tells you it's a sprained ankle, you're probably wrong. μ
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