With the ambitious mission to put an accessible and affordable health service in the hands of every person on earth, Babylon Health, an AI-powered smartphone app, was founded in January 2013 and launched to the public in April 2014. The company’s app, available on iOS and Android devices, allows users to book a video consultation with a doctor or a therapist, send photo or text messages to get answers to quick questions, track their health, and store basic health information like family health history, medication history, and allergy information. Users can order tests via the app too.
The app currently has more than a million users and last year, the company said it would invest $100M to hire more than 500 researchers, scientists, and engineers to develop the use of artificial intelligence in healthcare.
Already having a presence in Africa through Babyl Rwanda, Babylon Health is looking to expand worldwide, as seen from its partnership with Prudential, one of the largest providers of medical insurance in Asia. Through an email interview with Mobihealth News, Dr Ali Parsa, founder and CEO of Babylon Health, shared about the company’s expansion plans in Asia Pacific, and what disruptive innovation in healthcare means to him.
What are Babylon’s expansion plans for the Asia Pacific market? What opportunities and challenges do you see in the market?
Asia Pacific is one of the biggest markets for us. The opportunities of working with so many fantastic organisations and having the potential to make a difference to the healthcare of billions is humbling. Inevitably that comes with challenges, for example we’ll be starting by working in 15 different languages across 11 countries with different health environments through our partnership with Prudential.
Perhaps the greatest challenge will be ensuring that we know what our users want and need in each country. We need to understand distinct cultures, and deliver in a way that works best for that location. We could have the best service globally, but if we don’t make it locally relevant and appropriate, it will be a waste of effort.
The theme of the HIMSS Singapore eHealth & Health 2.0 Summit is ‘Disruptive Innovation for value-based healthcare.’ What does disruptive innovation in healthcare mean to you?
Despite spending trillions of dollars on healthcare annually, billions of people are being left behind. Half of the world’s population doesn’t have access to basic healthcare. And for those of us who are lucky enough to live in countries with good healthcare services, accessibility and affordability is still a chronic problem. The current system is designed to handle problems as and when they occur, with patients receiving treatment based on diagnosis of their symptoms. ‘Sick care’ would be a better way to describe this structure.
We believe it is possible to use the new advances in technology to make healthcare accessible and affordable for everyone on Earth. That means harnessing technology to start addressing a shortage of doctors. We are giving people access to medical advice around the clock, every single day of the year, and we are driving down the price as we do it.
But what if we also use technology to focus on prevention over cure? What if we were to think about our health in a much more holistic sense? We are already taking the first steps but by bringing in technology like biomarker trackers from wearables, or implantable and ingestible electronics, we could address the whole body and pay more attention to basic lifestyle factors - like diet and exercise. This way, we would be in a much better position to tackle some of the root causes of the world’s most common conditions.
Babylon is working with companies like Tencent, Samsung and Prudential Asia through licensing its AI-powered health assessment software. Could you share with us the reasons behind collaborating with technology and insurer companies?
We love to collaborate and build partnerships. Alongside digital-first clinical services and software licensing, they are a key component of our business.
We aim to deliver the best value end-to-end health service available, providing the best clinical outcome and patient experience at an affordable price, and we know that other businesses need and want to licence our technology. By making it easy for them to integrate our tech, and by partnering with leading organisations across the world, we serve more people. Learning from each new user enables us to enhance and refine our services, which in turn continues to drive up the quality of our service.
Babyl Rwanda has surpassed 2 million members as of May 2018, representing about 30% of Rwanda’s population. Could you share with us some of the latest developments with Babyl Rwanda and lessons/best practices that could be replicated in other markets such as Asia Pacific?
Our work in Rwanda, as Babyl, is a source of inspiration to us all. Babyl complete some 2,000 consultations a day, work with over 450 health clinics and pharmacies, and over 90% of users consistently report they are satisfied or very satisfied with the service. Babyl has been such a success that we are exploring ways to expand the model across East Africa.
And given this is a country where only 5% of people have a smartphone and 20% don’t have any mobile phone, we made our services work for the 75% who have a feature phone. The way we look at it, we have shown how we can successfully deliver comprehensive digital-first clinical services in one of the richest countries in the world, at the quality they expect. We have also delivered that same quality in one of the world’s economically poorest countries, at scale, and at affordable prices. For us, now, almost every other country lies somewhere in between.
We’ve learned how to provide what the client needs - not just what we think they want - and that can be replicated everywhere.
What are your thoughts on the newly formed NHSX, the joint organisation for digital, data and technology formed by the NHS?
The idea behind NHSX is fantastic. It is trying to bring the benefits of modern technology to every patient and clinician, and aims to combine the best talent from government, the NHS and industry. Its aim, just like ours, is to create the most advanced health and care service in the world, to free up staff time and empower patients. NHSX will help us have the open, collaborative discussions we need, since we are all in this together.
All the NHS systems need to be able to talk to each other, and we have to have open platforms so that anyone can help create services.
NHSX will also help drive regulation in a way that helps bring about positive change, whilst maintaining high standards. Babylon strives to be an industry leader, operating at the gold-standard and beyond. We do this because we think it’s right and because it’s best for patients and clinicians, so we are great supporters of anything that brings these standards to the whole industry. We have to ensure we have the right regulations to build the best health service that we can, which gives patients what they want and need.
You mentioned in an interview that the ultimate goal for Babylon is for healthcare to be in the hands of every human being. How long do you think it will take to achieve this goal?
In the Middle East there is a saying that if you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans. We don’t know what the future will hold, but we know the potential is enormous.
We are witnessing an inflection point. New technologies, seminal advances in medicine, and a radical cultural shift in populations worldwide are coming together. There are new opportunities that impact every part of our old healthcare models. We can fundamentally rethink every challenge – even ones that were hitherto untouchable. When you look at it as a whole, we are already witnessing the first major steps on the journey towards affordable, accessible healthcare for everyone on Earth.