If you’re one of the estimated 800,000 British Columbians who is without a family doctor you need look no further than your phone.
Telus Health launched the Babylon app for B.C. in March. B.C. is the first province in Canada to do so. Telus refers to the service as tele-medicine and it could be an important advancement in the ongoing doctor shortage in not only B.C., but Canada.
Think of it as a giant virtual clinic that can serve many of the more frequent medical needs. It can alleviate pressure on the lack of family doctors and the health care system overall. And it’s also highly convenient for the patient.
That includes thousands of families and residents in Greater Victoria who are without a regular primary physician. Most rely on walk-in clinics when they need medical care.
To use Babylon on your smartphone, you simply open the app and enter your symptoms into an artificial intelligence “chatbot” that will start your personal health record. The data is quickly processed. You can book virtual appointments with a doctor, access doctor consultation notes and video consults, manage prescriptions and get referrals for diagnostic tests or specialists when needed.
Telus created the health care arm of their corporation out of social conscious and to help close a gap in Canadian health care, as there are five million people without a regular primary care physician.
“Telus has the infrastructure to do it,” said Juggy Sihota, vice president of consumer health with Telus. “We felt there was a role to play in terms of delivering information for health care.”
Granted, the service does not replace all medical visits. It is common that the app will suggest an in-person visit for health care.
However, it’s strengths are in prescriptions. It streamlines the prescription process.
“You can get a regular prescription refill, or get it renewed,” and the prescription is forwarded to the patient’s preferred pharmacy of choice, Sihota said.
In their partnership with the Ministry of Health the government wanted to ensure a continuity of health care was part of the service offered through Babylon.
Telus has invested more than $2.5 billion into Telus Health since it started with the $763 million purchase of tech company Emergis in 2007.
As a history reminder, Babylon’s name is taken from, and inspired by, the ancient civilization on the Euphrates whose people valued knowledge (its ruins lie in modern-day Iraq). The tech company, Babylon Health, started in England in 2013. According to Babylon’s Canadian website, as early as 4,300 years ago the townspeople would gather in Babylon city centres to share “thoughts on treatments for common illnesses.” Thus, they democratized health care.
And thus, both Telus Health, and Babylon Health, see an opportunity to support modern health care.
Meanwhile, there is the additional element that Telus Health is now managing a growing caseload of private patient files. While it might seem like a significant move for Telus, the Ministry of Health said Telus Health’s role is no different than the management of personal information of any health clinic in B.C.
“Telus and Babylon are subject to the privacy protection legislation of B.C.’s Personal Information Protection Act,” shared ministry spokesperson Kirsten Booth said in a statement.
Telus Health would not release the number of registered B.C. physicians who are working with Babylon.