The NHS is working with Babylon to build an AI-powered helpline

By Oliver Smith 5 January 2017

The chatbot will see you now.

From the end of January a new healthcare app will be available to some 1.2m residents of North London, it will help them find advice on health conditions and illnesses by talking to an artificially intelligent chatbot.

The NHS says the six month trial of this app will act as an alternative to their existing 111 non-emergency helpline that Brits can call regarding “urgent, but non-life-threatening conditions”.

Babylon Health, which offers video consultations with real life doctors and has been moving into AI healthcare by ‘triaging’ patients via a chatbot, is behind this new NHS app.

In November last year The Memo revealed Babylon’s plans to move from AI-powered triage towards diagnosis and eventually to AI-powered prescriptions.

“[AI-powered triage is] something that a few years ago people would have said was impossible to get a machine to do, now we’re doing it with thousands of patients every single day,” said CEO and founder, Dr Ali Parsa.

Read more: Babylon is racing against Google & Amazon to build an AI doctor

“In two or three years, realistically I can’t see how a human being can diagnose better than a machine.”

For the new NHS app that already seems like it might be the case, the health service claims someone can get advice from the app 12 times faster than a phone call to 111.

After answering a few questions the app filters through thousands of possibilities, searching through the symptoms of every known illness, to give you advice on which over-the-counter medication might help or whether you should visit your GP.

The future of healthcare is powered by machines, and we can’t wait to see the NHS take this first baby step towards that future.