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The doctor will see you now

This blog is prompted by the launch in the UK this week of a remote consultation service called ‘babylon’. It’s the latest of several such launches globally and I think this is fast becoming a trend, rather than a passing fad.

mhealth

Babylon has been created by a gentleman called Ali Parsa. He’s an ex-Goldmans banker who is also a serial entrepreneur – prior to founding Babylon he was running Circle Holdings which had a degree of success in outsourcing the operation of hospitals within the NHS, which in itself is pretty remarkable. Babylon isn’t the first service of this kind, but it certainly looks very credible with a Medical Director from a top London hospital and claims to have recruited over 100 physicians to its staff (part-time for now). In the US we’ve seen the launch of services such as Plushcare, MDLIVE and American Well. Even in developing countries we see examples, the Daktari service provided by mobile operator Safaricom in Kenya, and Vodafone India’s Ask a Doctor service. I’m sure there are many more out there.

So what’s driving all of these remote doctor services?

1)   Classic market supply and demand equation. Most, if not all, of the patients who will use these services will be already able to access primary care services via their state or private insurance, but it isn’t always convenient for them. It’s the classic ‘cash-rich, time-poor’ syndrome, although I don’t think it’s just rich people who will access these services. Self-employed people can quickly assess the opportunity cost of taking time off work to firstly book then attend an appointment, so for them it’s personal productivity – and at affordable rates (around £8/$13 a month for the Babylon service) there is a compelling personal ROI.

2)   I’ve commented before about a broader ‘consumerisation’ of healthcare in my predictions for 2014 – so as well as consumer devices we now have consumer services.

3)   It also reflects another major trend I’ve written about this year – that clinicians are starting to lead in mHealth.

Implications

Will all of these services succeed? It’s too early to tell, but the number and quality of entrants suggests they believe there’s a ready market and sufficient funds to make it viable. Will it be disruptive to the existing healthcare providers? Maybe, although it looks like more of a top-up currently, and in many ways will probably be welcomed in the short-term if it relieves some of the capacity constraints (maybe it will make it easier for the rest of us to get appointments now?)

In the long-run, what if the established providers adopted the same model though, and started to really embrace technology-enabled remote consultations? Then it starts to get interesting….

What do you think? Share your views here or of course contact me.

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