Last week saw the launch of new healthcare app Babylon, offering a range of medical services through smartphones for a monthly fee. Users can send photos of injuries or areas of concern to doctors and nurses, hold consultations by video, receive electronic prescriptions and book consultations, or receive diagnostic kits for tests that cannot be done over the phone. Medical records can also be viewed over the app, allowing the user instant access. The app's developer is also planning on launching a diagnostic system in the future, allowing patients to track their calorie intake, activity and vital functions through their phones.
Babylon is the latest extension of the growing telehealth and telecare market, which allows for an individual's health to be monitored in their own home, with professionals being notified when there are changes so that either medication can be changed or a visit arranged. While this sector originally started with emergency alarms, the latest systems involve a range of sensors monitoring both the user and their environment, with the readings being sent in real-time for monitoring.
Babylon claims to be the first such health app to be registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC). One of the prescribed activities regulated by the CQC under the Health and Social Care Act 2008 regulations is triage and medical advice provided remotely, specifically "medical advice in cases where immediate action or attention is needed, or triage provided, over the telephone or by electronic mail by a body established for that purpose." Triage refers to the process of deciding how urgent a condition is and where the patient should be treated. Services registered under this provision are also able to undertake certain common diagnostic procedures, such as those proposed by Babylon.
That the regulation refers to services provided by "telephone or electronic mail", rather than telecommunications more broadly, shows just how far this sector has come in terms of harnessing the latest technology. The rapid pace of growth in this sector is both exciting for the potential health benefits, but also underlines the need for regulation to keep pace with the technology it is meant to regulate.