Physicians express doubts about Babylon Health's symptom-checking AI

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Though Babylon Health recently raised a record-breaking $550 million and was selected by the U.K.'s National Health Service to provide digital primary care services, physicians are still skeptical of the credibility of its artificial intelligence, Fast Company reports.

Babylon's AI powers a symptom checker chatbot that has reportedly been used more than 1.7 million times. After patients enter details about their symptoms in the Babylon app or website, the AI asks further questions before recommending next steps, such as scheduling a video consultation with a physician or going to a hospital.

The AI algorithm is based on a massive and continually updated database of medical information, as well as patients' health records. However, many physicians and experts remain unsure about the abilities of the AI; independent reviews have debunked Babylon's claim that their service's diagnostic skills outperform those of human physicians, according to Fast Company.

"They have managed to be commissioned by the NHS to do this job without ever having to test the product on real patients and without any independent scrutiny, and yet this seems to be OK for regulators," Dr. Margaret McCartney, a general practitioner in Glasgow, Scotland, told the magazine. "I think it's staggering."

Babylon told the outlet that its service satisfies the requirements and regulations of each country in which the technology is available, and that the AI has been validated through means other than clinical trials. In 2018, for example, the company released a study purportedly showing its AI outperforming a group of seven physicians in disease diagnosis.

But at least one author of the study, which tested diagnostic abilities only on official medical exams, not on actual patients, acknowledged that it did not go far enough in confirming the AI's abilities: Co-author Megan Mahoney, MD, a clinical professor of primary care and population health at Stanford (Calif.) University, described the paper as "great for an internal validation study."

"It looks like the AI actually might have some promise," she told Fast Company, and therefore, "We really have the responsibility to take it to the next step of rigor in evaluating it, because it actually could be helpful in augmenting and supporting access to care."

Read more here.

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