October 28, 2021

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Babylon Testing Coronavirus Chat Rooms for Doctors and Patients

(Bloomberg) — Health-care app Babylon Healthcare Services Ltd. is trialling a new form of text-based chat service that will allow users to report if their symptoms are worsening.

The new service follows a meeting last week held at Downing Street between U.K. adviser Dominic Cummings and representatives from technology companies, including Babylon, at which Cummings asked all present to suggest ways they could support the government and the NHS, which are under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.

The system, currently being tested internally, works like a conventional instant messaging service — conversations can be quick, or span several days or more, according to a person with direct knowledge of the trial who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

The chatroom is designed specifically to address coronavirus concerns. Both patient and professional can maintain an ongoing chat to monitor if symptoms are improving or worsening, the person said.

“We won’t be releasing anything until we’ve fully tested it and we’re not commenting until then,” said a spokesman for Babylon.

It’s not the only firm developing coronavirus monitoring tools. KRY International AB, which operates in the U.K. as Livi, is adding a feature to its Covid-19 symptom checker that will ask users to provide daily updates on their condition and connect them with medical professionals if their illness becomes more severe. The service is live in Sweden and will be introduced to the U.K., Germany, Norway and France this week, the company said.

Data from KRY’s app can also be used to see where the illness is spreading and monitor trends for patients outside the hospital, Chief Executive Officer Johannes Schildt said in an interview.

Babylon is one of the U.K.’s best-known health-tech startups. Last year it raised $550 million from new investors such as Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, valuing the company at more than $2 billion.

The U.K.’s National Health Service already lets patients choose Babylon’s “GP in Hand” mobile consultation service as their official primary care provider, and the startup has claimed that its artificial intelligence software, in tests, can assess common conditions more accurately than human doctors.

But the startup has come under strong criticism from health practitioners, and The Royal College of General Practitioners has also questioned the NHS for its partnering with the company. In 2018, U.K. health minister Matt Hancock was criticized for seeming to endorse Babylon in a British newspaper editorial authored under his name but sponsored by the technology company.

A roll-out could happen as soon as this week in the U.K. version of its app, and Babylon is working to extend the service to the U.S. as well, the person added. No specific timing has yet been decided or announced.

One of the U.K. government’s requests to the public is that they do not physically attend a doctor’s surgery or hospital if they have symptoms of Covid-19. Telemedicine has been shown to be an alternative as people self-isolate and seek advice.

This week, Babylon also added specific references to the coronavirus to its virtual symptom checker. If a patient reports symptoms such as a dry cough and fever, it will advise calling emergency services, in the most severe instances, or the NHS 111 service in the U.K. as a less urgent precaution.

(Added KRY details from 6th paragraph)

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