Babylon’s accessible health mission

In a new series of video interviews for DigitalAgenda, futurist and presenter Shivvy Jervis gets up close to the people driving meaningful impact through digital innovation. For this first episode, Jervis meets Dr Sophy Jessica Welch of babylon – the platform now putting digital health into the hands of more than 600,000 people worldwide.

London-based digital healthcare startup babylon was created with the lofty goal of “putting an accessible and affordable health service into the hands of every person on earth”. Less than two years after launch, babylon’s progress has been impressive: the company has built a patient base of more than 600,000 people.

The company was founded by healthcare entrepreneur Ali Parsa, who previously created a Europe-wide network of clinicians at Circle. Parsa took that network element and combined it with the ever-increasing power of machines and medical expertise to create a digital health service that seeks to be immediate, personalised and universal.

As well as offering video GP appointments and free medicine delivery, babylon uses AI to provide a 24/7 symptom checker service, giving patients “clinical reassurance” through their smartphones.

With an offer that spans private and NHS, babylon is attempting to strike a careful balance as a private healthcare business that is also on a mission to do good.

It is early into a partnership with the NHS, piloting a service in north London to complement the NHS 111 service, that is free at the point of use. At the same time, for private individuals, it offers a £5 a month subscription that gives unlimited access to GPs through its online video and audio consultation portal.

Last year, babylon expanded its service into Europe and also into Africa, where in Rwanda it signed up over 250,000 people and 60,000 consultations in the first 15 weeks of operation.

Welch, working in clinical artificial intelligence at babylon, told us: “We are demonstrating that this kind of service can work in one of the world’s poorer economies as well as the UK. Knowing that people can get to a doctor when they need to is the most rewarding thing in the world.”

Babylon also works with partner companies that offer the service to their employees. “Productivity and wellness are so important for companies, to help employees keep on the right track, feel good about themselves, to retain talent and feel like their companies are interested in them and their needs,” said Welch.

Babylon’s progress has been aided by major financial backing: in 2016 it secured $25m in Series A funding from a consortium led by Swedish investment group Kinnevik. That investment is helping the company to build and scale its AI-driven product.

In March, babylon was the winner of the health category at DigitalAgenda’s Impact Awards.

Jervis, a familiar face on the UK tech media scene, spoke to winners at the awards ceremony at London’s Barbican Centre.

Jervis has worked as head of digital content at Telefonica, as well as on her own video and presentation projects, including at the Guardian’s recent changing media summit. Her passion lies – much like ours – in highlighting the technologies that are helping to transform lives and the world around us.

Video produced by Joe Madden at Paradigm Creative