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Given the financial and resource pressures on the NHS, the private healthcare market should be showing healthy growth. But it isn’t. Private health insurance numbers are stagnant; private hospitals are topping up occupancy with NHS patients at reduced pricing levels. Only the self-pay market is showing signs of growth.

The business and service delivery models of the private healthcare industry haven’t changed since the industry was invented. Around the industry, the world we live in is changing. But the private healthcare sector carries on today as it did in yesteryear.

Pay a visit to a private hospital today as a private patient and you’ll see why private healthcare is so expensive and beyond the pocket of many potential customers. Consultants, hospitals and insurers vying for their share of the consumer’s spend. Expensive buildings, failure to implement (non-medical) technology, little change in who delivers what service where and how (sounds like the NHS…) and a reluctance (or a lack of investment) in finding out what consumers really want and might buy.

The end result…private healthcare is restricted to the 10% of the population who can afford it (or whose employers can afford it). The other 90% rely on an NHS which is beginning to creak. How many of these potential private healthcare consumers would go for a paid for option, if they could afford it and if it were easily accessible?

So, how can the industry deliver a private healthcare solution that is affordable to a much broader segment of the population?

Time for change

Well, one company thinks it’s time for change. babylon is a new healthcare venture launched by Ali Parsa, a former investment banker and one of the founders of Circle. babylon is the first organisation of its kind to be registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and receive designated body status from the NHS England.

It’s an app based system that gives subscribers low cost private healthcare. Subscribers get secure and confidential access to a panel of experienced private GPs and Consultants, as well as clinical monitoring, anywhere, at any time via their mobile device (iPhone or Android). babylon describe it as “your own health service in your pocket.”

Patients can:

  • Text a question or a picture for advice from a qualified GP or nurse.
  • Schedule a video or audio consultation on your phone, using the app.
  • Obtain immediate referral to a specialist.
  • Request delivery of a prescription  to their home, or to a nearby pharmacy.
  • Store details of the consultation, and check what has been said.
  • Schedule a test, X-ray or scan.
  • Arrange for a nurse to visit the patient.
  • Use the in-built monitor function to keep track of their health.

So what does it cost?

The service works on a subscription or a “pay as you go” basis.  For £7.99 per month you get daytime access (8am-8pm, 6 days a week) to advice from a private GP or nurse. Users also have the option to have pay-as-you-go GP consultations at £24 per session.

Need a video consultation with one of the consultants on their panel? Then that’s an additional £49 for the consultation. Need a face to face consultation or a test, x-ray or prescription? Then you pay on a price per item for the service delivered through one of babylon’s partners.

And will people buy it?

According to a Daily Mail survey of 11,019 adults (run in collaboration with over-50s group Saga), two million adults wait between two and three weeks to see a doctor and half a million suffer a delay of three or four weeks. According to a Patients Association survey, 60.5% of patients said they could not get to see a GP for at least two days, while 83.8% had to wait for more than 24 hours.

Many practices now offer same-day appointments only to those prepared to queue outside from the moment a surgery opens. It is widely accepted that pressure on general practice has led to an increase in A&E visits.

So, how many of these frustrated NHS patients would pay £72 pa to get immediate advice on a  healthcare concern from a private GP or nurse…or would pay £49 to get an instant video “opinion” from a respected UK consultant?

According to Ali Parsa, babylon’s Founder and CEO, “We want to leverage the mobile devices people already use to make access to healthcare better, simpler and more affordable for all. With easy access, world-class clinicians, comprehensive monitoring and health records all at your fingertips, babylon is simply your own virtual health service in your pocket.”

Will people see this as an affordable and credible way into private healthcare?

Only time will tell.

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About the author

Keith Pollard is Executive chairman of LaingBuisson International Limited, an online publisher in the healthcare sector that operates market-leading web portals such as Private Healthcare UK and HarleyStreet.com. LaingBuisson International Limited is also active in the online medical travel sector through Treatment Abroad, International Medical Travel Journal and DoctorInternet, the Arabic medical tourism portal. View www.keithpollard.com for my full profile.


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