In the NHS's 70th year, and as part of the push for digitisation, the introduction of an appointment-booking app has been praised, while a GP chatbot has been given the thumbs-down by The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).
Book Appointments With A Free NHS App
A free app, due to be launched at the end of this year, will enable NHS patients to make GP appointments, order repeat prescriptions, and access the 111 helpline for urgent medical needs.
The app, which is being jointly developed by NHS Digital and NHS England, and is part of NHS England's wider strategy to digitise the health service, will be made available through the App Store or Google.
As well as booking appointments and ordering prescriptions, the app will also give patients other options such as allowing them to opt-out of sharing their personal information for research and planning purposes across the health service, mark their preferences on organ donation, and register their choices for end-of-life care.
Many commentators have praised the idea of the app as something that could provide extra convenience to patients e.g. reducing the 8am scramble for GP appointments, and take some of the increasing load off some areas of the NHS.
Some commentators have stressed the need to ensure that the security, reliability, and the identity verification processes of the app are of the highest international security standards in order to protect the personal details and medical history of patients.
Big No for Doc App
While the NHS appointment-booking app has been receiving cautious praise, the new Babylon AI chatbot that can diagnose medical conditions (and offer health advice based on what users tell it) got the thumbs-down at an event held by The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).
One of the main aspects of the bot that upset physicians were claims by Babylon that the bot has achieved medical exam scores of the same level as or higher than a human doctor. The company says that according to its robust testing program, which includes relevant sections of the MRCGP exam, which is the final test for a trainee GP, Babylon's AI bot’s average pass mark was 81%. This mark is higher than the 72% average pass mark achieved by real doctors over the past five years.
These claims have been disputed by RCGP, which has stressed the point that no app or algorithm is able to do what a GP does.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Apps are being used in useful and value-adding ways in so many other sectors, it is no surprise that they are being developed for healthcare, and with the purpose of taking some of the burden off the NHS. For most people, the NHS is s trusted organisation anyway, and an app that can essentially perform administrative functions, such as booking appointments, sounds as though it could be very useful. The trust that many have in the NHS may also be enough to minimise security concerns. One criticism may be, however, that it may exclude the older members of society, many of whom are regular users of NHS services.
Even though an AI app may be able to pass theoretical exams (such as the Babylon AI app) getting people to trust it to make a diagnosis and then health suggestions, particularly when it has been criticised by real doctors, may be a step too far at the current time. That particular app company, however, has faced criticism in the past over its ‘GP at Hand’ app for the NHS, which allows patients at five London clinics to consult with their GP via a video call. The RCGP criticised it for cherry-picking patients, and leaving GPs to deal with the most complex patients without sufficient resources.
Either way, the NHS is committed to digitising some aspects of its services, and in introducing technology, a balance needs to be struck between adding real value in a fair way to all, while not being to the detriment of any NHS users and practitioners.