NHS ‘GP at hand’ via Babylon Health tests in London–and generates controversy

click to enlargeThe GP at hand (literally) service debuted recently in London. Developed by Babylon Health for the NHS, it is available 24/7, and doctors are available for video consults, most within two hours. It is a free (for now) service to NHS-eligible London residents who live and work in Zones One through Three, but requires that the user switch their practice to one of the five ‘GP at hand’ practices (map). Office visits can be scheduled as well, with prescriptions delivered to the patient’s pharmacy of choice.

Other attractive features of the service are replays of the consult, a free interactive symptom checker, and a health record for your test results, activity levels and health information. 

While the FAQs specify that the “practice boundary” area is south of Talgarth Road and Cromwell Road in Fulham, and north of the River Thames, it is being advertised on London Transport (see advert left and above taken on the Piccadilly Line) and on billboards.

Reviewing the website FAQs, as telemedicine it is positioned to take fairly routine GP cases of healthy people (e.g. colds, flu, rashes) and dispatch them quickly. On the ‘can anyone register’ page, it’s stated that “the service may however be less appropriate for people with the conditions and characteristics listed below”. It then lists ten categories, such as pregnancy, dementia, end of life care, and complex mental health conditions. If anyone is confused about these and other rule-outs, there is a support line. 

Babylon Health is well financed, with a fundraise of £50 million ($60 million of a total $85 million) in April for what we profiled then as an AI-powered chatbot that sorted through symptoms which tested in London earlier this year. This is a full-on telemedicine consult service with other services attached.

Now to the American view of telemedicine, this is all fairly routine, expected, and convenient, except that there’d be a user fee and a possible insurance co-pay, as more states are adopting parity for telemedicine services. We don’t have an expectation that a PCP on a telemedicine consult will take care of any of these issues which Babylon rules out, though telemental health is a burgeoning and specialized area for short and long-term support. But the issues with the NHS and GPs are different.

First, signing up to ‘GP at hand’ requires you to change your GP to one in that program. US systems are supplementary–a telehealth consult changes nothing about your other doctor choices. This is largely structural; the NHS pays GPs on a capitation basis.

mHealth Insight/3G Doctor and David Doherty provide a lengthy (and updated) analysis with a critical view which this Editor will only highlight for your reading. It starts with the Royal College of GPs objections to the existence of the service as ‘cherry-picking’ patients away from GPs and creating a two-track system via technology. According to the article, “NHS GPs are only paying them [Babylon] £50 a year of the £151 per year that the NHS GP Practice will be paid for every new Patient they get to register with them” which, as a financial model, leads to doubts about sustainability. Mr. Doherty advises the RCGPs that they are fighting a losing battle and they need to get with mHealth for their practices, quickly–and that the NHS needs to reform their payment mechanisms (GPs are compensated on capitation rather than quality metrics).

But there are plenty of other questions beyond cherry-picking: the video recordings are owned by Babylon (or any future entity owning Babylon), what happens to the patient’s GP assignment if (when?) the program ends, and patients’ long-term care.

Oh, and that chatbot’s accuracy? Read this tweet from @DrMurphy11 with a purported video of Babylon advising a potential heart attack victim that his radiating shoulder pain needs some ice. Scary. Also Digital Health.

Categories: Latest News.

Comments

  1. N robinson

    Babylon’s T&Cs state that Bluebird own the video consultation, not the patient !

    What happens if they go bust and sell the data??

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *