Ashish_Patel picAshish works at babylon, recently named the ‘Most Innovative Provider’ in the Axa PPP Healthcare’s Health Tech & You Awards.

babylon combines the latest technology with the knowledge and experience of the best doctors to make healthcare simpler, better, and more accessible and affordable for people everywhere.

It offers video consultations with GPs and consultants via a mobile app.

Interview

What is your role at babylon?

I lead our team of software developers and make sure our products are clinically relevant. This involves designing some of the underlying bio-algorithms, identifying great partner companies and supporting the business development team.

How did the babylon opportunity come about?

In November 2013 the CEO of babylon asked a mutual friend for a software-focused doctor. He wanted to hire a part-time contractor to work on a medical AI [artificial intelligence] system for 6 months. I took the role on in December 2013, whilst still doing clinical work [Ashish was in anaesthetics specialty training (CT2) at the time]

How does working at babylon compare to working in the NHS?

There is a startup mentality at babylon. All the different divisions (financial, technology, regulatory, clinical) sit together in one office and learn from each other. You have the freedom to pursue your ideas – in the NHS you have a far more defined role so this freedom is not possible.

In the NHS you develop deep technical expertise in one area, but at babylon I am exposed to a multitude of challenges in various areas like recruitment, clinical regulation and software development. In many respects it is far more challenging but also more rewarding – you develop deep expertise in many areas!

In the NHS you develop deep technical expertise in one area, but at babylon I am exposed to a multitude of challenges in various areas like recruitment, clinical regulation and software development. 

What advice do you have for budding doctorpreneurs?

Speak to lots of people about your idea – listen most to the people who say your idea is a bad one, understand from them what improvements are required.

Understand the problem you are trying to solve well.

Candle makers never invented the light bulb – learn from the insights and thoughts of people outside of your field.

 

The babylon app allows you to ask any medical questions for free, pay to see a doctor in minutes and it also allows easy delivery of prescriptions.

The babylon app allows you to ask any medical questions for free, pay to see a doctor in minutes and it also allows easy delivery of prescriptions.

How many doctors work at babylon?

Our Medical Director [Dr Mobasher Butt] provides clinical leadership to our team of 25 GPs. We also have specialty leads, who are full-time medical consultants that help with governance and quality improvement for their respective specialties.

I think you need doctors at a medtech startup to oversee the clinical aspects, but then you need to build other expertise alongside. I have seen many startups fizzle out as a group of doctors have a great idea but do not get any software engineers on board.

listen most to the people who say your idea is a bad one, understand from them what improvements are required. 

How do you recruit and pay the GPs and Consultants on your books?

We are highly selective with the doctors we bring on board. It’s the only way we can guarantee a high quality medical experience to our patients.

Our GPs must have 5 years experience as a GP, a passion for healthcare technology, and must be totally bought in to the babylon concept. Our doctors are babylon.

Doctors are given training on how to consult via webcam, this is not something most of them are comfortable with when they first join us. After training they don’t even think about being on camera, it becomes natural to them.

All our doctors are salaried members of our team. However, they all work elsewhere too, this variety of patient experience is important. 

In future once babylon grows we may employ some doctors full-time if we need to.

Do you have any plans to sell the service into the NHS?

We have had multiple encouraging high-level conversations with senior NHS executives. babylon is willing to work with both NHS and private providers in order to improve access to care. Our recent approval for the NHS Choices app store will further help to improve our links to the NHS.

 I think that online consultations are a logical next step for the health service.

I read that you have a sophisticated symptom checker, can you tell us some more about this?

It is an algorithm-based decision making tool designed to help patients. Others have been trying to do symptom-checkers for a while but they aim to diagnose people after asking just a few quick questions – this is unrealistic. We have designed babylon’s system to advise people on what to do next, not make an arbitrary diagnosis based on limited information.

Will the symptom checker one day replace doctors?

At present I see computers being involved in doctors’ decision-making process so they can focus on what is most important. As technology improves over the years, I can see a future in which a high proportion of medical issues are dealt with by computers alone.

I think that online consultations are a logical next step for the health service.

What other innovations are you planning?

We will soon facilitate blood tests for users. babylon doctors can request certain blood tests such as blood sugar levels and full blood counts for a user, or users can request blood tests themselves. Users receive the appropriate blood testing kit in the post, send off a few drops of blood from a finger prick sample, and this blood is then analysed in our partner lab and results are sent back users wirelessly. Users can then have a follow-up consultation with a babylon doctor if the results are abnormal.

Some of the more advanced features of the app include the ability to monitor your health and to create and maintain your own clinical record on your smartphone.

Some of the more advanced features of the app include the ability to monitor your health and to create and maintain your own clinical record on your smartphone.

 

How do you plan to differentiate yourself from competitors, or is it simply first mover advantage?

Big companies in USA have struggled due to the differences in state-by-state legislation, which make it difficult for a doctor from one state to consult patients from another state. Being a UK-based company with UK-trained doctors is a massive advantage. The UK has a world-renowned healthcare system, with highly-respected doctors and global reputation for excellence. This, coupled with babylon’s offering of a range of carefully designed solutions allows us to be globally unique.

What have you learnt since working at babylon? 

I’ve learnt a lot about innovating in a constructive fashion to deliver results that delight users. As a doctor I found how to use my medical knowledge constructively outside of traditional healthcare. In addition I have learnt how to manage teams working across multiple sites, how to develop globally scalable technologies, and how to evaluate which partners are worth pairing with.

Which healthcare startups are you particularly impressed by?

Sleepio – Cognitive behavior therapy for insomniacs.

Glucowise – non-invasive blood glucose monitoring.

Headspace – online gym for meditation.

All of these solve real problems in an excellent manner.

The babylon Health app is available to download for free from iTunes.

About The Author

Vishaal Virani
Co-Founder & Editorial Director

Vishaal graduated from UCL Medical School in 2011 and completed Foundation Training at the William Harvey Hospital and King’s College Hospital in London. He then worked at a start-up healthcare consultancy, Mansfield Advisors, for two years, and now works as a strategy consultant at OC&C. Vishaal plans to use the skills he has developed as a management consultant to start up his own company.

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