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Margaret McCartney: Innovation without sufficient evidence is a disservice to all

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 05 September 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j3980

Re: Margaret McCartney: Innovation without sufficient evidence is a disservice to all

Babylon’s partnership with NHS111 in North London is by definition a time-limited, independent pilot programme in one region, set up precisely so that it can be evaluated rigorously to assess any potential benefits for patients on a wider scale. As you would expect, before the pilot commenced, the local NHS conducted their own validation of the Babylon triage service against all their serious incidents over a recorded period, and found the service to be completely safe.

In this context, Dr. McCartney’s call for additional trials and evidence - before a pilot programme can even commence to gather the evidence she claims to desire - seems somewhat confused. We will continue to publish our results, but the reality is that we’re simply doing what innovative NHS GPs have been doing for years – establishing a pilot, testing our systems to give high confidence they are safe and effective, publishing the results, and working with the NHS on a full evaluation.

Of course, as a supporter of a political campaign that exists to prevent any new organisations from innovating to support the NHS (1), it is hard to know if any evidence that supports an alternative view could satisfy Dr. McCartney, but anyone who claims to value evidence-based judgements should set aside ideological bias and wait for tangible results before attempting to pass verdict.

As a GP, who previously spent years feeling frustrated by a system that piles unsustainable pressure on clinicians to meet soaring levels of demand, and prevents us providing the type of patient care we entered medicine to deliver, I have been amazed by how babylon’s technology can transform both patient care and GP workloads.

Since we introduced our artificially intelligent symptom checker to babylon subscribers, we have reduced same day GP consultations by 40% by appropriately providing alternative care, such as reliable healthcare information, self-management advice and pharmacy support. This is quite simply a game-changer for the economics of delivering GP services. As a result, we have been able to keep waiting times - for our list of hundreds of thousands of patients in the UK, and 10% of the adult population in Rwanda - at a matter of hours rather than days or weeks. That’s one of the reasons that our patient ratings give us one of the highest customer satisfaction rankings in the country, with a net promoter score of 93, and 93% of patients giving four or five star ratings.

There will always be politically-minded people who resist innovation to shore up the status quo, but with waiting times hitting three weeks in some areas, and GPs retiring and resigning in droves, anything that makes workloads lighter and primary care more accessible deserves a fair hearing. At babylon we’re currently in discussions with 35 different countries who have approached us about using our technology to transform their own primary care systems. It would be a great disservice to UK patients if the NHS was not able to benefit from this type of technology.

1. – I donate a small amount of money monthly to Keep Our NHS Public.

Competing interests: Employee of babylon

05 September 2017
Mobasher Butt
Medical Director
babylon health