This may be the wrong disruption for health systems and makes it difficult for companies trying to innovate, especially if the costs of the projects cause providers to go out of business or struggle to stay afloat. Earlier this year, NHS AI-embedded healthcare company Sensyne reduced the number of personnel to prevent it from crashing and Google shut it down Streams clinical application based on artificial intelligence last year. Alphabet since then reorganized Google Health and IBM sells Watson Health. this prove to be difficult for tech giants to gain a foothold in even the more lucrative U.S. market, though Amazon is willing to give it a shot through its $3.9 billion acquisition healthcare provider One Medical.

But can they innovate? Drague thinks so. Ultimately, GPs across the country switched to virtual appointments and digital tools during the pandemic lockdown, negating one unique aspect of Babylon’s offering.

And this is a source of frustration. Back in 2018, then Health Minister Matt Hancock promoted Babylon in paid supplement as a solution to long waiting times to see GPs, but that changed after the pandemic, now the govt saying would be to “name and shame” doctors who saw too few patients in person.

Why are private startups praised and internal innovation condemned? “London’s GPs worked hard to improve online appointments at the start of the pandemic with little additional resources to support them, and many of the best innovations have come from individual practice adapting to the needs of their patients, not through top-down imposition “, says Drague. “Their reward for this has been to repeatedly punish politicians for offering too many remote meetings.”

This frustration extends to the fact that the NHS had to bend and twist to fit Babylon into the system, only to then back down. Andy Slaughter, the Labor MP who condemned the Babylon rollout, represents the constituency where GP at Hand is based and was critical breakdowns over the years. He noted on Twitter: “Babylon has really disrupted primary care, especially in the [Hammersmith and Fulham]. They thought they had a get-rich-quick scheme and were backed by then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock. It has now turned to dust, but why should the NHS be victimized by private providers and their backers in government?’

Rideout admits Babylon caused problems for local health authorities in the early days, but says they now have a more “positive” relationship. “The model was disruptive, but it was purposefully disruptive,” Rideout says. “If you’re just providing what everyone else has always provided, it’s not disruptive, but frankly, it’s not doing what the system needs, which is significant re-engineering.”

Innovation in health care is complex, Drage says, and instead of moving fast and breaking things, new systems and technologies need to be implemented without risk to patients, other providers or budgets. “NHS policymakers and leaders should not assume that technology alone will simply bridge the gap between demand for GP services and the capacity challenges caused by the workforce crisis and decades of systemic underfunding,” she adds. On this point, Babylon can agree.

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