A London-based company, Babylon Health, has designed a smartphone app based on complex clinical algorithms which gives medical advice to patients; it is being trialled in London by the NHS.
The app triages patients based on reported symptoms: they are asked a number of questions and are advised on these findings. The advice that is given is either self-care or a hospital referral or the patient is advised to make an appointment to see a GP. The trial is for six months and, it is hoped, will alleviate pressure on the NHS during its busy winter time. The NHS 111 helpline will still be available for these patients, but hopefully the number of people using it will be reduced.
Unfortunately, it is thought that the same basic problem we have with the NHS 111 helpline will not be solved with this new app – a lack of input from trained professionals, which could result in more people being sent to overstretched GP surgeries and A&E departments when treatment is not needed or, conversely, more serious cases being missed.
Interest in and adoption of the app could benefit a contract research organization like http://www.gandlscientific.com/contract-research-organization/, as it is important that we adopt innovative technology-enabled care. However, we also need to recognise that it’s the patients in greatest need, such as the elderly, who are not always able to keep up with technology and don’t use smartphones, so they will be the ones who suffer.
Responses collected from patients who are using this app are mixed: some find it useful for less urgent problems and to gain advice on children-related problems, but this could also result in patients relying on the system and not using their instinct to see a doctor face to face when it is easier just to contact an app. People who work nine to five find the app helpful in getting a doctor’s appointment out of hours, and others say a little advice can save a doctor’s appointment being wasted.
We will have to wait to see the results of these trials, but many are optimistic that these new technologies, when used together with properly trained clinical staff who have the professionalism to deal with patients in a sympathetic and helpful manner, will result in a reduction in waiting times for the vulnerable.