Telus Health app provides virtual visits and medical info to patients
October 30, 2019
Just eight months after launching Babylon by Telus Health, a platform for virtual visits with doctors and an AI-powered symptom checker for patients, the app has been downloaded by “tens of thousands” of users across Canada. It’s especially popular in British Columbia, where the provincial government has given the go-ahead for patients to conduct video visits with participating primary care physicians.
Babylon by Telus Health runs on smartphones and enables B.C. patients to make an appointment and see a doctor – often in as little as 15 minutes. That’s an impressive feat, as many members of the public don’t have a GP, and those who do have difficulties getting to a doctor’s office if they’re housebound or in a rural location.
“There are 800,000 people without a family doctor in British Columbia,” noted Juggy Sihota, vice president of consumer health at Telus. There are 600,000 without a family physician in Alberta, and 5 million across Canada.” Virtual visits, like those provided through Babylon by Telus Health, can be an effective part of the solution to this problem, she said.
For its part, Telus Health is in discussions with other provincial governments about supporting virtual care. Telus Health sees this as an effective way to alleviate the challenges of access to primary care doctors and providing care to members of the public when they need it. “We think that [improving healthcare for Canadians] is the most significant social challenge of our generation,” said Sihota.
Babylon by Telus Health also offers an AI-powered symptom checker that can help users get more healthcare support and information. Devised by the British company of the same name, Babylon, the solution is now being used by the National Health Service in the United Kingdom to offer video visits with GPs, 24/7 (when needed, patients are directed to local GPs for in-person appointments). The app also suggests possible treatments and therapies.
Babylon considers itself to be on the forefront of artificial intelligence and machine learning in healthcare globally. It makes use of its own knowledge base, drawn from inputs from medical professionals, cases, medical journals, and learns over time to improve its suggestions.
“It’s helpful if you’re not sure of what you’re dealing with, and you want to get a better idea,” said Sihota. “But it’s not a substitute for a doctor, especially for emergencies, or when a doctor has to palpate [touch] to discover what’s wrong.”
She added, “But it does prepare you and the doctor for a visit.”
The app can even transfer the notes of an interaction with the Babylon by Telus Health symptom checker to the physician, if the patient then sets up a virtual visit. That way, the doctor has details of the patient’s problem at his or her fingertips and has valuable information about the issue even before the medical encounter begins.
And if the patient does have a regular family doctor, notes of the virtual visit can be sent electronically or by paper, if required, to ensure continuity of care. Half of all the virtual consultations conducted today through Babylon by Telus Health are being shared with a family doctor at the patient’s request.
That integration is helping to overcome another stumbling block in Canada’s healthcare system – when patients go to an ER or a walk-in clinic for care, their regular doctor rarely receives a note about the visit. With the Babylon by Telus Health interaction, notes and video consultations can be provided. “We’re specifically trying to improve the continuity of care issue,” said Sihota.
She preferred not to discuss exactly how many patients and doctors are online and using Babylon by Telus Health in British Columbia, except to say that tens of thousand of patients have been using it and that thousands of consults have occurred in the past six months.
Most of the doctors have their own practices and conduct the virtual visits as part-time work, from home, their office and other locations. The province of British Columbia provides remuneration for video visits.
When the patient has a virtual visit using Babylon by Telus Health, and a prescription or lab test is needed, the doctor can electronically send the script or lab requisition to the patient’s preferred pharmacy, medical lab or diagnostic imaging centre.
Not everything can be treated via a virtual visit, but studies have shown that a wide range of ailments can be effectively handled, from skin rashes to colds and coughs, as well as prescription renewals and mental health issues.