A doctor in your pocket?

A new app was launched in the UK this week, Babylon, which promises just that. Their website states "We are building the world’s first integrated digital healthcare system combining the latest advances in technology with modern medicine. "

Additionally, an article in Wired UK says "Designed to make booking healthcare appointments as simple as 'booking a Hailo cab', Babylon gives patients access to doctors 12 hours a day, six days a week for £7.99 per month." 

This is extremely exciting, and particularly inspiring that it's come from a UK company, not a US one. Kudos to Ali Parsa and his team for pushing the boundaries of what we know as Digital Health. According to the same Wired UK article, Parsa has said that in their beta trial prior to launch, the company could resolve 75% of problems virtually, and just 25% of cases required a visit to a clinical professional. I will be following their progress with much anticipation, and truly hope it will improve how healthcare can be delivered in the 21st century, not just in the UK, but globally. 

However, when I viewed their website, no terms and conditions or privacy policy were available to view. When I searched for the app in the Play Store, I found the same. It was only when downloading the app, and creating an account within the app, that you could view the terms & conditions and privacy policy. Given the recent care.data saga over the poor communication & lack of transparency regarding the use of our health data within the NHS, I find this oversight, quite surprising. In my opinion, transparency in terms & conditions is critical to how organisations gain the trust of the consumer when rolling out new services. 

The video below shows you what I found when I viewed the terms and conditions & privacy policy within the app. Despite having the latest Samsung S5 smartphone with a rather large screen, I was swiping for many pages. Full of legal jargon that left me confused [and I'm a digital savvy person who has worked with data for 20 years], it makes me wonder if the average patient wanting to use the app would be able to make an informed choice? It's not reflective of Babylon per se, this applies to virtually every app I download today. Do YOU read the T&Cs & privacy policy of every app or website you use? Are you even AWARE of what terms you've accepted? How many of you have heard of Terms of Service Didn't Read?

Looking at T&Cs of Babylon Health app version 1.0.2 on Play Store - 30th April 2014

I did share my concerns over email with Ali Parsa yesterday, and he swiftly replied, promising to add the T&Cs and Privacy policy to their website. I appreciate as a startup, they must be super busy, so kudos for responding so quickly. So, when journalists write articles about new health apps, should they also be reviewing & sharing their opinions on how patient friendly the terms and conditions are?

Dr Watson in your pocket

What if you could ask IBM's supercomputer, Watson, a question at 3am via an app, regarding your child's symptoms, and get a 100% trusted response based upon the latest medical knowledge? That could be a possibility in the near future, according to this article in New Scientist.

2 days ago, IBM unveiled the 25 ideas selected in response to their The Watson Mobile Developer Challenge issued at February's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Out of these 25 ideas, just 3 will be chosen to be developed, making them the first 'Watson in the cloud' apps. You can browse the 25 ideas here, with 6 of the ideas having a focus on health. 

Remember I recently talked about a possible future in 2025, where doctors are unemployed? Look at how rapidly Digital Health is evolving before our very eyes, and you begin to wonder what the implications would be if you had a service like Babylon in the future, powered not by human doctors, but by Watson in the cloud? How comfortable would you feel with your child's medical history being processed by a supercomputer in the cloud? 

Think of all the companies, products & services that haven't even been invented yet! 

For the 65% of the UK that has a smartphone, Babylon & Watson could both transform how healthcare is delivered to them.

For the 35% of the UK that don't have a smartphone, looks like you'll still need to make a physical trip to a doctor's office until 2018 [by 2018, it's forecast that smartphone penetration in the UK will be 100%]

Whatever happens in the future, no matter what shiny new gadgets & services you are offered, I strongly recommend doing your own research to understand where who owns your health data, who has access to it, and who profits from using it!

Remember, it's YOUR health data from YOUR body that is central to the anticipated revolution that Digital Health promises all of us. Are you fully informed on what data you've agreed to share and with whom? Want to understand more about what's at stake? This Guardian article published this week arguing that it's time to solve problems around data privacy is a good place to start. 

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