Babylon's AI passes mockup of UK's GP exam, goes head-to-head with doctors

By Jonah Comstock
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Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Babylon's total funding.

Babylon Health, one of a number of companies working on triage chatbots for health, has already made a name for itself with a high-profile partnership with the UK’s National Health Service, as well as with investment rounds totalling $85 million.

Now the startup says its AI can pass England’s GP exam and go head-to-head with top doctors in a simulated diagnostic environment.

“The World Health Organization estimates that there is a shortage of over 5 million doctors globally, leaving more than half the world's population without access to even the most basic healthcare services,” Babylon founder Dr. Ali Parsa said in a statement. “Even in the richest nations, primary care is becoming increasingly unaffordable and inconvenient, often with waiting times that make it not readily accessible. Babylon's latest artificial intelligence capabilities show that it is possible for anyone, irrespective of their geography, wealth, or circumstances, to have free access to health advice that is on par with top-rated practicing clinicians.”

Working with the Royal College of Physicians in the UK and Stanford Primary Care and Yale New Haven Health in the United States, the company subjected the AI to a recreation of the MRCGP (Member of the Royal College of General Practitioners) exam based on publicly available questions, since the test itself is not published.

The AI scored 81 percent; the average passing score for UK medical students is 72 percent. 

In addition, recognizing that real practice differs significantly from a written test, the company subjected Babylon and seven primary care physicians to 100 independently-devised symptom sets. Babylon had an 80 percent accuracy on this test; the doctors scored between 64 percent and 94 percent. The AI gave a safe triage answer 97 percent of the time, compared to 93 percent from the doctors.

The company published the research on its website, and hosted a live-streamed event today to announce them.

In a recorded demo shown during the livestream, Parsa illustrated how Babylon’s system starts with a chatbot conversation and continues into an AI-assisted telemedicine visit. In addition to informing the doctor’s conversation with the patient, Babylon also automatically generates visit notes for the doctor. It also analyzes the patient's facial expressions and reports their emotional state to the doctor.

The company is also working on an Alexa app, slated for release at the end of August, Parsa shared at the event.

"Tonight's results clearly illustrate how AI-augmented health services can reduce the burden on healthcare systems around the world,” Parsa said. “Our mission is to put accessible and affordable health services into the hands of every person on Earth. These landmark results take humanity a significant step closer to achieving a world where no one is denied safe and accurate health advice."

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