Digital healthcare specialist Babylon has announced plans to invest $100 million to create a multi-disciplinary team dedicated to building next-generation, AI-powered healthcare technologies.
The move forms part of a long-term product and service strategy to apply AI to chronic disease management. It builds on recent partnerships with the likes of Tencent, Samsung, Bupa, Prudential, The Gates Foundation, and TELUS.
As Babylon scales its operations internationally, it is increasing its focus on chronic conditions – which affect half the US population. Twenty-five percent of the populace in developed countries suffer from mental health issues, while diabetes and anti-obesity treatments cost the UK’s NHS an estimated £10 billion and £5 billion each year, respectively.
Babylon believes an AI-powered digital solution could go a long way to combating these conditions and the financial burdens they impose.
The company is developing features such as AI health assessment, health planning, coaching, and monitoring to enable users to compile a more holistic view of their health and help manage conditions in ways that are appropriate for their lifestyles and needs.
Despite burgeoning AI hotspots in Asia, the US, and elsewhere in Europe, Babylon has decided to remain in London, citing the capital’s scientific and clinical talent, and its multinational and multi-dimensional open culture.
Babylon’s $100 million investment will see the number of London-based employees double from 500 to 1,000, furthering its R&D efforts in the capital.
Dr Ali Parsa, Babylon’s founder and CEO, said of the announcement:
We are currently witnessing what is arguably the fastest-ever period of technological and scientific innovation in history. So much that was never possible before is now within our reach.
“We believe it is now possible to make most of the healthcare people need accessible and affordable, and put it in the hands of every person on Earth.
“Seventy years ago, the United Kingdom was the first country in the world to create a national health service. Today, we are going to double-down on our investment in Britain and create the technology that will make it possible for everyone around the world to have what the founders of NHS wanted for Britain.”
• However, Parsa is a controversial figure to many in the healthcare sector, as founder and former CEO of Circle, the private healthcare operator that has taken over some NHS services. While claiming to be a social partnership of the John Lewis model, Circle is majority owned by VC and hedge funds, managed by a holding company. Parsa stepped down as CEO in 2012.
Is AI the answer?
Babylon believes AI-based solutions can help bear some of the pressure currently on the NHS and its overworked employees.
“Artificial intelligence has the potential to improve the capacity of our healthcare professionals to safely care for more patients, while allowing them to maintain meaningful patient-carer relationships as well as a more realistic work-life balance,” said Dr Parsa.
The company’s AI event in June aimed to demonstrate that its AI is able to diagnose patients as accurately as a doctor – though the company faced criticism for the lack of peer review.
The company is eager to stress that it has no ambitions to replace medical professionals with technology.
Today’s announcement isn’t about replacing experienced medical personnel with new technology, but rather using AI to enable front-line healthcare staff to work more accurately, effectively, and efficiently in delivering better quality health outcomes for ever-increasing numbers of patients around the world.
Matt Hancock, secretary of state for Health and Social Care, used the announcement to espouse the UK’s merits as a melting pot for healthcare innovation.
“We’ve got amazing universities, we’ve got an amazing private health tech start-up ecosystem, and we have an amazing healthcare system in the NHS. The three of those, supported by government, are going to work together to harness the very best technology on the planet, the very best minds on the planet, and the very best clinicians on the planet to serve our people, but also to build this country into the best healthtech nation on earth.”
Internet of Business says
Babylon made its name with its AI-based doctor app, which the company drives with the ambitious imperative, “to put an accessible and affordable health service in the hands of every person on earth.”
The app features a text-based AI triage service to aid diagnosis, and can refer patients to a video call service with a doctor, if needed.
Following its launch in November 2017, the app was providing around 2,000 10-minute video consultations a week by February 2018, and now has tens of thousands of registered patients, three quarters of whom are under 35.
Early last year, the NHS trialled the app, in place of its 111 non-emergency helpline, and now offers a GP at hand app, powered by Babylon. This allows patients to see an NHS GP in minutes for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week – though the service is currently only available in parts of London.
Babylon’s announcement of further AI-based services follows last week’s publication, by the UK government, of an AI supplier code of conduct, which was created to ensure NHS patients benefit from digital technology.
Despite this, Babylon’s efforts in the space are demonstrating the potential of AI to both improve patient care and make healthcare processes more efficient. While AI-based services, including Babylon, have faced criticism, more needs to be done to enable their integration with traditional health services.