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Babylon provides another step towards remote healthcare

· Mobile Zone

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Earlier this month I attended the Health 2.0 conference in London, and there were a fascinating array of projects covered from around the world.  I’ll be reviewing some of the better products over the coming days, but I think the biggest trend noticed at the event was the concept of providing remote diagnostics.

These tend to be delivered either via an AI style expert system approach, or via providing access to a real life doctor over the web.  I’ve covered the former a few times on this blog, so I’d like to explore the latter a bit more today.

There are a number of trends underpinning this shift towards more remote consultations.  Firstly, patients are empowered now more than ever before.  Whereas previously, doctors were incredibly powerful, and tended to hold all the aces when it came to information, it’s increasingly the case that patients are coming to consultations well armed with an array of facts about their symptoms or condition.

The second key trend underpinning this shift is the rise in health tourism.  This movement is predicated on the notion that people are no longer willing to accept the limitations of their local healthcare system.  The rise in global trade has pulled down barriers and opened peoples eyes to the possibilities of getting health services from abroad.

The rise of telemedicine

Now, we’ve seen a number of services looking to capitalize on this shift.  I wrote about one of the forerunners in the industry last year when I covered CrowdMed, who offer patients a range of second opinions via the web.

Another service along similar lines is Diagnose.me, a Dutch/Slovak venture that I covered earlier this year, and who were also presenting at Health 2.0.

There are a few clear differences between Diagnose.me and CrowdMed.  The obvious one is how you get your diagnosis.  With CrowdMed anyone can review your case (for free) and the prediction market hopes to filter the wheat from the chaff.  It should be said that you can order an ‘expert’ review for $50, which is pretty much the same deal as you get with Diagnose.me.

Such is the rise in this market that Google began dipping their toe into it recently.  They have begun to pilot a service whereby users are offered a live video chat with a clinician when they search for medical related queries.

Enter Babylon

Arguably the most far reaching attempt however is offered by Babylon.  Babylon is a new service launched by health entrepreneur Ali Parsa, the founder of Circle Healthcare.

The aim of the service is to make seeing your doctor as straightforward as it is to use the many aspects of the sharing economy.

The subscription service lets you book an appointment with a doctor of your choosing 12 hours a day, six days a week.  You can also monitor your symptoms and manage prescriptions.

As with the various other second opinion style services, you can post a photo of your ailment to your doctor, and interact with them via text message.

In keeping with the trust based sharing economy, patients are then encouraged to rate and review their experience, to create a vibrant marketplace of clinicians.  Parsa said at Health 2.0 that any clinician receiving less than 4 stars on average is removed from the system.

A nice feature is that all consultations are saved in a secure location, so you can revisit them multiple times should you require a refresh of what was said.  Patients also have access to referral notes, X-rays and various other test results.

The hope is very much that the platform will provide us with the tools and the help to start looking after our health in a serious way.  The app has a whole range of tools to monitor and track pretty much any health metric you can think of.

“If someone’s weight is going up, we don’t care so much about the appearance of you looking bigger or smaller. How are you sleeping? What’s your state of mind?” Parsa says.

Since the launch of the service in April, the service has gained traction around the world, with usage emerging from Jersey to Rwanda.  Parsa certainly isn’t resting on his laurels however, and plans to spread the message even further.

“We are now looking at parties who have a large customer base, such as supermarkets, big public institutions, mobile phone companies and newspapers.

“If people can go into Tesco and by an iTunes card, why can’t they buy a Babylon access card?” he says.

It’s a fascinating service, and part of a wider movement that is surely going to see telemedicine and remote healthcare become an active part of our lives sooner rather than later.  With the need to make healthcare provision more prevention based, these kind of developments are very welcome indeed.

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