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ABHI at 30 Guest Blogs. The Future is Already Here — It’s Just Not Very Evenly Distributed

What is possible when the computing power of machines and the clinical expertise of humans come together?

Imagine Jane, a 56-year old woman with type 2 diabetes. By using a primary care service, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), to manage her condition on a day to day basis, she can track her blood glucose, blood pressure, and other key indicators of her condition. If there’s a worrying trend in her vitals, predictive AI will send advice to her mobile phone and can alert her doctor if needed. If she’s feeling unwell, she uses the AI symptom checker to see what she needs to do. If needed, she can organise consultations over video with a general practitioner or specialist, booking in seconds and talking to her doctor without having to leave her home or place of work.

This is no “vapourware” – everything Jane can use this digitalfirst service for is already available or is coming out this year.

So, what does a good AI-based digital-first system for primary care look like?


Artificial intelligence is used to assess symptoms, entered by the user, and recommend the level of medical intervention that is needed. This is already in use for two million people in North Central London. Entering symptoms on the chat bot takes seconds, and the triage advice comes back instantaneously – 24/7, 365 days a year.

Fast access to a clinician when needed

Sending texts and pictures to registered doctors and nurses to get an answer within minutes is a powerful way of avoiding unnecessary appointments. When it comes to actual consultations, people need a secure way to speak to clinicians by video or phone – avoiding travel and freeing up premises costs.

Patient health profile

By enabling patients to collect, assess and benchmark their own information on their health and wellbeing, they can combine data with other health apps and get a tailored picture of their health. Instant access, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.


What does the future hold?

The speed of technological improvement means that what is cutting-edge today will be commonplace tomorrow, and

today’s approaches will fast become defunct. Or as William Gibson (who coined the term “cyberspace”) put it, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed”. Look out for:

  • AI symptom checking and differential diagnosis using genuine, auditable machine learning. Each new interaction is an opportunity to compare the results to the best medical opinion and update the AI to improve its accuracy
  • AI analysis of diagnostic imaging
  • Adaptive analytics allowing continuous health monitoring and preventative intervention. This will use behavioural, environmental, clinical and any genetic information that the individual consents to provide, all integrated into the AI system. 

Put all this together and the potential to transform primary healthcare is tremendous. For clinicians, the ability to practice at the top of their licence becomes a reality. Most importantly, for Jane, managing her diabetes becomes far easier because she’s getting a full end-to-end health service that puts her in control of her life.

Paul Bate, Director of NHS Services, Babylon