London-based Babylon Health is a digital-first health service provider that uses AI and machine learning technology to provide access to health information to people whenever and wherever they need it.
The company has partnered with private and public across the UK, North America, South-East Asia, and Rwanda with the aim of making healthcare more accessible and affordable to 24 million patients worldwide.
“Our job is to help people to stay well and we’re on a mission to provide affordable, accessible health care to everyone in the world,” explains Richard Noble, Engineering Director of Data at Babylon.
Babylon Health’s rapid growth has led it to seek a partner to help it scale.
By partnering with Google Cloud, the company claims that it’s been able to:
- Increase event data ingestion from 1 TB per week to 190 TB daily
- Reduce the wait time for users to access data from six months to a week
- Integrate over 100 data sources – providing access to 80 billion data points
- Save hundreds of hours of work by automatically transcribing 100,000 video consultations in 2021
Babylon Health needs to store and process huge amounts of sensitive data.
“We work with a lot of private patient data and we must ensure that it stays private,” explains Natalie Godec, cloud engineer at Babylon. “At the same time, we must enable our teams to innovate with that data while meeting different national regulatory standards.”
Therefore, Babylon Health required a partner it felt could handle such demands.
“We chose Google Cloud because we knew it could scale with us and support us with our data science and analysis and we could build the tools we needed with it quickly,” added Noble. “It offers the solutions that enable us to focus on our core business, access to health.”
Babylon Health says the move to Google Cloud has enabled it to better analyse its data using AI to unlock new tools and features that help clinicians and users alike. While building a new data model and giving access to users initially took six months, the company says it now takes under a week.
In London, Babylon Health offers its ‘GP at Hand’ service which – in partnership with the NHS – acts as a digital GP practice. Patients can connect to NHS clinicians remotely 24/7 and even be issued prescriptions if required. Where physical examinations are needed, patients will be directed to a suitable venue.
However, GP at Hand has been criticised as “cherry-picking” healthier patients—taking resources away from local GP practices that are often trying to care for sicker, more elderly patients.
While initial problems are to be expected from any relatively new service; poor advice in a healthcare service could result in unnecessary suffering, long-term complications, or even death.
In 2018, Dr David Watkins – a consultant oncologist at Royal Marsden Hospital – reached out to AI News to alert us to Babylon Health’s chatbot giving unsafe advice.
Dr Watkins provided numerous examples of clearly dangerous advice being given by the chatbot:
Babylon Health called Dr Watkins a “troll” who has “targeted members of our staff, partners, clients, regulators and journalists and tweeted defamatory content about us”.
According to Babylon Health, Dr Watkins conducted 2,400 tests of the chatbot in a bid to discredit the service while raising “fewer than 100 test results which he considered concerning”.
Babylon Health claims that in just 20 cases did Dr Watkins find genuine errors while others were “misrepresentations” or “mistakes,” according to Babylon’s own “panel of senior clinicians” who remain unnamed.
Dr Watkins called Babylon’s claims “utterly nonsense” and questions where the startup got its figures from as “there are certainly not 2,400 completed triage assessments”. He estimates conducting between 800 and 900 full triages and that some were repeat tests to see whether Babylon Health had fixed the issues he previously highlighted.
That same year, Babylon Health published a paper claiming that its AI could diagnose common diseases as well as human physicians. The Royal College of General Practitioners, the British Medical Association, Fraser and Wong, and the Royal College of Physicians all issued statements disputing the paper’s claims.
Dr Watkins has acknowledged that Babylon Health’s chatbot has improved and has substantially reduced its error rate. In 2018, when Dr Watkins first reached out to us, he says this rate was “one in one”.
In 2020, Babylon Health claimed in a paper that it can now appropriately triage patients in 85 percent of cases.
Hopefully, the partnership with Google Cloud continues to improve Babylon Health’s abilities to help it achieve its potentially groundbreaking aim to deliver 24/7 access to healthcare wherever a patient is.
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