Ah, right. I’d been racking my brains trying to work out why Babylon has negotiated a deal to pre-install their GP app on Samsung mobiles . Apparently, it’s so that millions of mobile users ‘will soon be able to better manage their health’ – which we’d all agree is a more laudable aim than an alternative hypothesis I’ve encountered, ‘to fleece the worried well’.
That said, I still have some philosophical objections to the AI approach to the diagnostic process. It’s absurdly reductionist to suggest that tapping a few questions to a chatbot could act as a valid substitute for the nuances and complexities of the GP consultation, even if I do doze through some of mine.
It also reinforces the completely wrong notion that symptoms inevitably and algorithmically lead to a diagnosis. When does that ever happen? The reality is that symptoms result in a spaghetti junction of confusion and contradiction which we GPs manage with clever time-passing manoeuvres such as umming and aahing, or arranging unnecessary blood tests, until they resolve spontaneously, as they usually do.
And, finally, they miss the point of patient behaviour: most people don’t want to know what’s wrong, they want to know what isn’t. That their chest pain isn’t cardiac, their pins and needles MS, their headache a brain tumour and so on.
Most people don’t want to know what’s wrong, they want to know what isn’t
Therein, I think, lies my fortune. Because there’s definitely a market for an app which recognises this by inviting punters to enter their symptoms, type in their feared diagnosis and accept the advice: ‘Forget it.’ This is my idea, I already have a name for it (Hypochondriapp) and if Babylon – or, indeed, any other ancient Mesopotamian kingdom – wants to pay me a shedload of cash to develop it, be my guest.
I certainly know what I’d spend that money on. The Babylon app offers unlimited video appointments at just £50 per year. Yep, unlimited. I’ve got a few patients I’d not only point towards Babylon but who I’d be prepared to fund. It’s a bargain and yes, it’s true, I’m a mobile user and I do feel better already.
Dr Tony Copperfield is a jobbing GP in Essex