Mobile Engagement

An app which enables patients to get medical advice via their mobile phones is set to be trialled by NHS England.

Clinical commissioning groups have worked with technology firm Babylon to trial an algorithm-based chat service which will help patients with their medical concerns.

Users will be able to connect to the NHS 111 powered by Babylon app, enter their symptoms and be given advice as to whether to see a GP, go to hospital, visit a local pharmacy or stay at home.

The initiative is designed to be an alternative to the NHS helpline 111, which has seen an increase in demand from two million calls a year to 15 million calls annually in four years.

Adam Duncan, a chief operating officer at London Central and West (LCW), said: “LCW is happy to be working with NHS England and the other providers involved to ensure the piloting of the NHS 111 App is evaluated robustly.

“We aim to provide an alternative to using the NHS 111 telephone number for service users that would find it most convenient to their lifestyle.

“The use of the app could also reduce the demand on NHS 111 during the most busy periods, whilst retaining the high quality and accessible service.”

However, concerns have been raised about the methods being used by the NHS to plug patient demand.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association GP committee chairman, said:

“Whilst it’s always important to maximise use of technology to empower patients and make efficient use of NHS resources, this initiative does not address the fundamental problem that we have a severe shortage of GPs and health professionals in community settings.

“The basic problem with NHS 111 is how it slavishly relies on algorithms and non-clinical staff without room for clinical interpretation in certain instances.

“This proposal does not address this fundamental limitation and may make the situation worse.

“What we should instead be doing is investing in having properly trained and appropriate clinical staff handling calls and requests from patients, complementing the use of new technologies.”

The six-month trial, beginning this month, will be available to north London residents in Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Haringey and Islington. Patients who choose to continue using the 111 helpline will still be able to do so.

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