Babylon Health launches digital assistant for COVID-19

Hands of robot and human touching on global virtual network connection future interface. Artificial intelligence technology concept.

‘Virtual doctor’ firm Babylon Health has introduced a digital care assistant to advise people how to diagnose and manage suspected COVID-19 infections.

The care assistant can be used at all hours to check symptoms, track illness, cope with self-isolation, and maintain communication with healthcare workers, says the company, whose GP at Hand phone app is being piloted in the NHS.

Babylon says the new COVID-19 service “delivers appropriate information and care for each individual according to their need, allocating doctors’ time to the patients who need it most.”

It says that with 20% of UK healthcare staff likely to be self-isolating or ill at the height of the pandemic, alternative ways to connect patients and doctors have to be deployed.

The digital medicine specialist has been rolling out its service in London and the West Midlands and in January signed a 10-year partnership with Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust aimed at providing remote access to GPs and hospital specialists at times that suit patients.

The expansion came after the Care Quality Commission (CQC) concluded in December that the platform offered a “good” service, two years after the watchdog said in a report that it provided unsafe care.

“COVID-19 is the biggest public health threat to our communities for nearly a century and Babylon has a huge obligation to help,” said Ali Parsa, Babylon’s chief executive on the launch of the COVID-19 care assistant.

“The combination of our technology and clinical service allows our doctors and nurses to use their time for the most suited tasks, whilst amplifying their expertise for the benefit of all our patients,” he added.

The care assistant provides guidance to people in the form of six steps, starting with general information on the outbreak and advice on self-isolation, caring for others and minimising contamination.

There’s also a symptom checker and a live chat function to connect users with a Babylon team member for advice. The next stage is daily logging of symptoms in the app and guidance on managing them, moving on to virtual consultations for those who need them and referral to hospital care when needed.

Babylon said the app would be made available to all its UK patients in stages over the coming days, and “many others soon after.”

The app is free to download and is free in Birmingham and London through the NHS. Elsewhere, users have to sign up for pay-as-you-go or annual subscriptions.

As of 22 March, there were 5,683  total confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, and 281 deaths. London has seen the most cases of COVID-19 of any region in the UK, with many boroughs having more than 100 known cases. There are 91 confirmed cases in Birmingham.