Almost a year into its operation, Telus Health executives claim“tens of thousands” of British Columbians are embracing its “Babylon” healthcare app. Launched in BC as a trial before a country-wide rollout, the app was designed by Britain’s Babylon Health UK medical professionals to help patients “visit a doctor through their smartphone” using a one-on-one video consultation feature for direct, private access to a licenced family doctor – often with the hour – from anywhere in BC. Consultations are covered by the provincial Medical Services Plan.
The system’s designer and Telus Health also offer a chatbot symptom checker powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help users get more healthcare support and information. The company considers itself to be on the forefront of AI in healthcare globally, drawing on and constantly updating its own knowledge base and input from medical professionals, cases, and medical journals. “It’s helpful if you’re not sure of what you’re dealing with, and you want to get a better idea,” said Sihota. “But it’s not a substitute for a doctor, especially for emergencies, or when a doctor has to palpate [touch] to discover what’s wrong.”
The app can transfer the notes of an interaction with the symptom checker to the physician, if the patient then sets up a virtual visit, or to the patient’s regular family doctor, to ensure continuity of care. The doctor then has details of the patient’s problem at his or her fingertips and has valuable information about the issue even before the medical encounter begins.
Not all residents (or doctors) signing on to the Babylon system have enjoyed a positive experience, as early bumps and glitches have been worked through. However, a recent online survey indicated that 94% of respondents found the app easy to use, and 92% agreed their main issue was resolved by the end of their consultation. Not everything can be treated via a virtual visit, but studies have shown that a wide range of ailments can be effectively handled, from skin rashes to colds and coughs, as well as prescription renewals and mental health issues.