Britain’s biggest digital doctor apps are rolling out symptom checker services for coronavirus as the nation retreats into quarantine.
The spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus across the country has led a number of start-ups to develop technology that could help the population check their symptoms from home as increasing numbers of people self-isolate to reduce the risk of exposure to the deadly disease.
Babylon Health, a London-based healthtech start-up that has won the backing of Health Secretary Matt Hancock, has prepared a new feature on its app to help patients figure out if they should self-isolate or not.
The tool, launched this weekend, uses artificial intelligence to guide patients through a series of questions that determine if they might have coronavirus.
If the AI believes a patient to be at risk, it is understood that it will refer them to an instant messaging service with clinicians who can offer more specific advice remotely or direct them to a hospital.
“We’re letting you use our AI to say whether you should self-isolate or not,” said Ali Parsa, Babylon’s chief executive. “I can pretty much tell you it would be the same results if you talked to a doctor.”
Meanwhile Livi, the UK division of Kry, a Swedish start-up, is due to launch a free symptom checker that gives advice to patients who suspect they have the virus or who have tested positive.
By answering questions about their symptoms and potential exposure to the virus, as well as their medical history, the feature could recommend patients to stay at home or call emergency services.
The company’s app can be downloaded to smartphones, and typically allows users to book appointments with a GP that they can see by video. It currently oversees 2.7m patients in the country.
Juliet Bauer, UK managing director at Livi and former chief digital officer at NHS England, believes tools are needed for people to assess themselves at home as “our health systems are facing unprecedented demand”.
“As more patients self-isolate, we’re working round the clock to meet demand for video GP appointments, but we also recognise a need for patients themselves to monitor their symptoms,” she said.
“There is a vital role in helping reassure patients and providing up to date advice and guidance about staying healthy and stopping the spread of infection – the symptom checker does this.”
The feature has already been launched in Sweden, where 5,000 people have started using the service. In the past two weeks, the company claims to have delivered “double the number of normal appointments”.
The outbreak of coronavirus has killed more than 100 people in the UK and infected at least 2,600 as of this week. It has led Boris Johnson to label it the “worst public health crisis for a generation”, as schools have been shut and the capital forced into lockdown.
It has forced the Government to call on the private sector for support at a time of desperate need. Babylon was among a number of tech companies called in to a meeting at No.10 last week led by Dominic Cummings.
Babylon has attracted some criticism over the accuracy of its AI, after a consultant oncologist for the NHS recently claimed the AI chatbot has “flaws”.