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April 5, 2018

Babylon, Tencent partner to Boost AI Healthcare app Distribution

Can Babylon expand its operations successfully around the globe with Tencent?

By April Slattery

Babylon is partnering with Chinese tech giant Tencent in an attempt to take on the Chinese market, with its artificial intelligence (AI) healthcare application.

The British start-up first hit the technology scene back in 2016, launching its AI healthcare mobile app that allows patients to self-assess their symptoms prior to contacting a physical health body.

Now, the company is teaming up with Tencent to deploy its AI app on WeChat, the Chinese company’s social media messaging platform, to target patients in the growing Chinese health industry.

Meng Zhang, General Manager of Tencent Medical, said in a press release; “We
have identified Babylon as one of the leaders in this technology worldwide and aim to partner with them to put it into the hands of Chinese consumers.”

Through the partnership, WeChat’s one billion users will have the ability to message medical symptoms directly to Babylon’s mobile app, which will then send back healthcare advice on what to do next. In doing so, the partnership aims to leverage Babylon’s market position on a global level, expanding out of the UK and Ireland.

The British company currently has over one million users, that it offers the free automated symptom checker to as well as a paid video consultations with human doctors.

Partnerships the company has formed to date have been relatively small; Babylon’s app has been through numerous trials with the NHS, operating with its 111 service to help patients be diagnosed quickly without the need for physical interaction with doctors.

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In addition the company has dealt with private healthcare company Bupa to target non-essential healthcare problems.

Babylon’s HQ in Kensington, London.

The overall aim of the app is to ease the demand that healthcare services face, bringing a better focus on patients in critical need of consultations to the forefront of the healthcare service.

Using its AI app further with the NHS, the company carried out a second trial with the NHS in November. This allowed one million Londoners to switch from their local surgeries to using the app as a first port of call for contacting the NHS. In doing so, it not only eases the work of GPs and nurses, but also makes life a little easier for patients that lead busy lives and want a quicker answer to their concerns.

Despite the success of the app, it has brought concerns around the NHS and GPs. Some trials from the NHS brought backlash form doctors, insisting that the results are inaccurate because they are based on historic data and also that the app is picking out the easiest patients to deal with.

Margaret McCartney, a GP and healthcare writer, told the FT that existing standards are ill-equipped to analyse artificial intelligence. “I am concerned that they have not commissioned adequate safety testing,” she said. “Class 1 [status] is what you give to spectacles. I suspect there isn’t a sufficient regulatory framework in place to look at this sort of thing.”

The healthcare industry has been expanding its operations within technology, utilising AI and machine learning to optimise operations. Google and Microsoft are just two to mention that have deployed technology to benefit the sector, whether its analytically or physically with the use of bots.

Babylon has not stated when its AI services will be available in China, but hopes the expansion will widen its footprint worldwide. It has existing partnerships with the Rwandan government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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