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NHS vs Robots: Here’s what happened when doctors took on AI

Artificial intelligence has had a bad rap (see: Terminator), and public confidence has waned. Would you trust a machine to diagnose you?

Medical professionals today faced off against health firm Babylon’s ‘Check a Symptom’ app feature, in a bid to find out who’s best equipped to triage patients: man or machine?

The challenge saw Professor Irwin Nazareth, former head of primary care at UCLH, examining patients with the help of either: (1) one of Britain’s most senior A&E nurses, (2) an Oxford-educated Junior Doctor, or (3) Babylon’s ‘Check’ feature. And the results were…interesting.

babylon health

It turns out that that the app came to “the same accurate assessment” as both the nurse and junior doctor, but faster, and at no cost. But that didn’t surprise Babylon, who’s own tests have revealed that the app’s advice is “safe in 100% of cases, and accurate in 92% of cases”. That’s 10% more accurate than a doctor, and 15% more accurate than a nurse, apparently. Better still, the app is faster 87% of the time.

So how does ‘Check’ work? Well it uses an artificial intelligence that imitates the conditional logic used by humans when thinking diagnostically. This AI dynamically risk assess “billions of combinations of symptoms”, and then recommends the most appropriate course of action.

Related: Best iPhone Apps 2016

babylon health

Dr Ali Parsa, Babylon’s founder and CEO, said:

“Babylon was created to make healthcare more affordable and accessible to all by combining the best in medicine with cutting edge technology. Using the exponentially growing computational power of machines and artificial intelligence to help clinicians extend their capability and reach the mobile devices most people already have, is the next critical step to make healthcare affordable and accessible for everyone on earth.”

Of course, as much as we’d love for ‘Hey Siri, my leg has fallen off’ to one day be an actual, functional command, if you’re really ill, we’d still recommend going to see a doctor. An actual doctor. With legs.

babylon health

That said, diagnosing – or triaging, technically – via an app is a welcome innovation. According to Babylon, the ‘Check’ feature has already been used 20,000 times in the three weeks since it launched. What’s more, 10,000 of those occurred “outside normal working hours”. An app like Babylon’s could go a long way to reducing the burden on healthcare systems.

You can download Babylon Health here.

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Would you trust an app to give you a medical diagnosis? Let us know in the comments.

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