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article imageHealth app to be tested out by the UK health service

By Tim Sandle     Jan 5, 2017 in Health
London - The British National Health Service is to test out an new health app. The app is designed to provide reputable health advice and acts as an alternative to people making medical calls.
The National Health Service is one of the largest in the world, covering England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These combined services employ 1.6 million people and have a combined budget of £136.7 billion ($200 billion). As well as providing hospital services, emergency services and clinics, there is a large network of general practitioners. People with health issues can also dial two telephone numbers: 999 for an emergency, which often leads to an ambulance being called; and 111 for general medical inquiries that are not deemed to be an emergency.
The 111 service is relatively new (being launched in 2013). The service uses a clinical decision support system which structures the response to a call, which may range from telephone advice to the dispatch of an emergency ambulance. After a hesitant start it has proved to be popular - too popular in fact and the strain on the service has led the British government to back an alternative option - digital health. One reason why the 111 service struggles is because the service is staffed by qualified health and medical practitioners.
The digital service is a health app of a "chatbot" design. It uses artificial intelligence, using a computer to question users about their medical matter and symptoms. The device then suggest the most appropriate course of action. The app has been developed with Babylon Health, a company who are specializing in digital health services. Babylon run their own paid-for app, upon which the free-to-use NHS model will be based.
According to Engadget, to see what the take-up of the app is and to allow monitoring of the advice dispensed, a six-month trial of the app will start at the end of January 2017 within the North London area (about 1.2 million people). Further information provided by The Financial Times indicates that the app will be rolled out nationally provided that usage and engagement figures are sufficiently high; that the rated user experience is good; and provided there is some lessening of the strain upon doctor services and hospital visits. With the existing Babylon model, users can choose to subscribe to a monthly fee and gain unlimited virtual access to general practitioners, or opt for a pay-as-you-go model.
The idea of the app has attracted concerns from medics and patient groups, according to The Daily Telegraph. This is based on fear that the app is too risky, in terms of incorrect advice being given or users misinterpreting what is provided. For example, Joyce Robins, from Patient Concern, told the newspaper: “I find this quite frightening. People who are ill want a person they can speak to. Typing in your own symptoms and waiting for a result is just ridiculous – what happens if you make a mistake?”
The results of the trial will be interesting, to see if the advocates are correct and that a burden is shifted from health services and accurate advice is given; or whether the take-up will be low; or if the fears of patient groups are realized.
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