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NHS experiment in AI will see whole city offered virtual hospital appointments and diagnosis by chatbot

This article was taken from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/01/23/nhs-experiment-ai-will-see-whole-city-offered-virtual-hospital/

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An entire city is to take part in NHS experiment in Artificial Intelligence to ease pressure on GPs and hospitals, under new plans.

Patients will be able to Skype medics via smartphones, or receive a diagnosis by chatbots, under the deal agreed by one of the largest hospital trusts in the West Midlands.

Everyone living in Wolverhampton will be given access to an app – created by private firm Babylon – allowing them to book GP and hospital appointments, with some offered remotely.

David Loughton, chief executive of Royal Wolverhampton NHS trust, said the change would “transform” the way services were delivered.

Under the deal, NHS staff will be given access to the firm’s technology – including artificial intelligence, which assesses symptoms.

In addition, Babylon will use its network of clinical staff to boost NHS staff numbers, the company said.

The 10 year deal also sets out plans for increased use of wearables, and patients offered digital health assessments, carried out by chatbots, as well as the chance to play back their own consultations with medics.

In future, patients with chronic conditions should be able to undergo monitoring at home, with results fed into their app, alerting specialists when an appointment was needed, Mr Loughton said.

Ali Parsa, chief executive and founder of Babylon, said the plans would help the NHS to lead healthcare across the world.

The private company already offers a service – GP at Hand – which has provoked controversy among medics.

Under this deal, patients in London and Birmingham are able to sign up for GP appointments via smartphone, instead of seeing an NHS GP.

Some critics have argued that the service is depriving GPs of needed funding, because such services attract healthy middle-class patients, leaving family doctors to deal with the most complex cases.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, has repeatedly said such types of services must be available for all patients, vowing to end a “postcode lottery” in access to digital healthcare.

Last January, officials pledged that within five years, one in three hospital appointments would be scrapped, with patients instead given Skype consultations or monitoring via smartphone.