Babylon Health to launch its triage chatbot service in US next month

The company's US lead said that two "very large" strategic partners have already been secured, with hopes to lock down as many as five by next year.
By Dave Muoio
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Babylon Health is lining up strategic partners as it targets January 2020 for the US launch of its triage chatbot service, according to comments from the company’s US lead that were later confirmed to MobiHealthNews by a spokesperson.

Kurt Blasena, Babylon’s senior managing director of commercial strategy and revenue growth, said that the London-based company has already secured two “very large” strategic partners with expertise in the US healthcare market. It will not be employing a direct-to-consumer strategy “right out of the gate,” he said, and one of the first program implementations will be specifically tailored to a Medicaid population.

“We’ll be partnering with folks that can really provide not just distribution to consumers and their members, but also be thought leaders and really help us along the way as true partners,” he said at the recent Digital Health Innovation Summit in Boston. “So, we have two [partners], and expect to have three to five by next year.”

Much like its other international rollouts, Blasena said that the company has been hard at work localizing the service for the US. These efforts take many forms, ranging from tweaks to the chatbot’s natural language processing system to hiring US-based staff. Importantly, the company’s offering must be able to navigate the services and administrative hurdles unique to the US healthcare industry.

“In the UK there’s one payer and there’s one system, if you will,” Blasena said. “[In the US], healthcare is a very local business in the way that it’s set up. States all have their virtual care and telemedicine laws and regulations that you abide by, and all of that goes along [to make] a very complex environment.”

WHY IT MATTERS

App-based symptom check and consultations tools gives patients a consumer-friendly interface for engaging in care, and are easier to scale because they don’t rely on live staffers to operate. A successful rollout of Babylon’s service could help programs reduce costly complications driven by delayed care.

THE LARGER TREND

A US launch fulfills the promise of Babylon’s gargantuan summer funding round, which was led by Saudi royals and slated to help the company was expand into the Middle East and China alongside North America. The company has already seen rollouts in Rwanda and and Canada, as well as in its home country via longstanding deployments with the UK’s National Health Service.

The company’s approach isn’t without controversy, however. Last year saw a case where a head-to-head comparison in which the service triumphed over live doctors was highly contested by professional groups, and it wasn’t long before NHS officials began delaying rollouts of the GP at Hand app due to patient safety concerns.

The company does have some contemporaries in the US market as vendors, providers and payers alike are experimenting with their own versions of triage chatbots