Plans to use a symptom checker app by digital health company Babylon Health have been dropped by CCGs in London due to fears that people might manipulate the system to get quicker GP appointments.
HSJ first reported that after testing the app, a London CCG was worried that patients would use the app to speed up access to GP appointments.
The board was hoping that the app could help drive reductions in demand for GP appointments. CCGs across North West London worked with focus groups to see if Babylon’s symptom checker app could help reduce appointments. However, results from the focus groups showed that patients would mainly use the app to get faster access to GP appointments. Concerns were also raised over the potential that patients might ‘game’ the system to get a GP appointment.
The results showed that Babylon’s service was therefore unlikely to reduce demand on GP services and the CCGs decided not to fund a pilot of the service.
The information regarding the decision was obtained from board papers from the North West London CCGs Collaboration Board. Notes from a separate paper in November state that several London GPs, Imperial College Health Partners and Health Education England are working together towards an alternative app.
The paper states: “As part of the online consultations development, a small group of patients has been testing the symptom checker during September 2017, spanning six patient focus groups and a wide demographic area. As a result of this valuable exercise along with our partners, the decision has been made to not proceed with the proposed Babylon pilot. However, we have 17 pioneer GP practices, Imperial College Health Partners and Health Education England (NW London) all working to develop an alternative. During November 2017, GPs are being invited to give input on the next steps and how we might shape digital access to general practice.”
HSJ received a comment from Imperial College Health Partners (ICHP), Health Education England in North West London and Babylon.
They said: “We worked in partnership with the North West London Collaboration of CCGs and Health Education England working across North West London, to consider the merits of the app as a tool to help manage demand for GP services – particularly through the symptom-checker feature.
‘We worked closely with patients and the public to find out what demand there was for the app. We found that patients were typically most interested in using the app to speed up GP access, rather than the symptom checker.
‘The insights gathered from engaging with patients and the public was sufficient in informing the ongoing work of the sector as we explore this area further.”