NHS to Experiment with AI App as Alternative to 111 Service

The NHS has announced its intention to experiment with an artificially intelligent medical AI as a potential alternative to the the NHS 111 helpline.

1.2 million residents of North and Central London will gain access to this software, with the London boroughs of Camden, Islington, Enfield and Barnet central to this process.

The app will perform certain checks for those suffering with non-life-threatening conditions.

Users will be able to submit their personal symptoms to the software, with the app deciphering what medical needs may be.

The app will provide a series of questions to users in order to ascertain more details of the specific problem.

A huge database of symptoms and illnesses has already been loaded into the software with the intention of giving a broad-base of possible advice to the technology.

The app has the ability to filter through billions of possibilities, using an algorithm to judge the potential urgency of any situation that it encounters.

It is notable that the entire process takes in the region of 90 seconds, compared with approximately 10 minutes for an average 111 call.

The system has been developed by a London-based startup by the name of Babylon.

Although the NHS 111 system was set up with the intention of improving service to patients, it has been criticised for its ineffectiveness in some quarters.

The helpline has been guilty of despatching too many people to Accident and Emergency unit according to critics.

“111 at the moment relies on an employee taking people through a pathway of questioning. They are not clinical professionals necessarily,” Keith McNeil, chief clinical information officer of the NHS suggests, and this argument has been used to suggest that the helpline is fundamentally unsafe.

There have also been criticisms of the 111 helpline due to the excessive amount of money that it costs to run.

Each call to the service across the NHS in the region of £15, with the 111 service being run by a combination of ambulance services, private groups and non-profit organisations.

The Babylon app has already built up a user base in excess of 500,000 users, and the company hopes that the NHS will roll out the software on a wider basis following 86-month trial period.

“What we really need is real-world evidence to show that apps like Babylon are scalable across a whole population in a real-world scenario. That’s the challenge for us,” the aforementioned McNeil commented.

The Care Quality Commission has already deemed the NHS 111 service to be inadequate following an investigation last month.


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