Dr. Ali Parsa is a British-Iranian healthcare entrepreneur and engineer. He’s the founder and CEO of Babylon, the revolutionary AI and digital health company. Babylon’s mission is to put an accessible and affordable health service in the hands of every person on earth.
Dr. Parsa was listed in The Times 100 people to watch. The Health Service Journal recognized him as one of ‘the 50 most influential people in UK healthcare’. He was featured in the Maserati 100, a list that recognizes game-changing entrepreneurs. He’s a UK Cabinet Office Ambassador for Mutuals and has a PhD in Engineering Physics.
Q: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Dr. Parsa. To start with, you’re an engineer by training and have now founded two healthcare companies. What drew you to healthtech in the first place?
A: Healthcare is broken – despite spending trillions of dollars each year, half the world’s population has no access to healthcare, whilst 100 million people are driven into poverty from the fees. In founding Babylon, we wanted to create an organisation that could make healthcare accessible and affordable by delivering it to devices people already have. We do far more than telemedicine - we use the power of AI to increase access, put more information in the hands of people, ensure earlier opportunities for intervention and as a result improve treatment outcomes and help to reduce costs.
At Babylon, we give patients access to quick reliable medical information and answer their biggest health questions - and in many cases they can take the necessary action without even having to speak to a doctor. So whilst triple the number of patients use us, we have only increased the number of doctors by 25% because 80% of patients have already been supported. And, using our tools, we can still connect a patient with a doctor for a virtual consultation to ensure their specific needs are met when they need one.
Q: Babylon now provides health services all over the planet. You operate in not only some of the most resource rich environments on earth, but also in some of the most resource-poor environments. Are there any unique challenges to providing remote medicine in resource limited environments and do you think this is a viable and cost-effective option for those countries going forward?
A: Actually many of the problems facing healthcare are global - they come down to spiraling costs and a lack of doctors. In 2016, the WHO reported that we were short of 5 million healthcare professionals, and predicted that number would rise to a shortage of 18 million healthcare professionals by 2030. And that was before COVID-19. We need to use technology to care for far, far more people than we do at the moment and help make it more affordable for them.
There are of course differences between the needs of each country. For example, we now work in over 13 different countries across Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East and we have to ensure that the help we provide works in each language, for each country’s set of medical issues, and that the information is presented in a way that is useful for them, which means lots of work localising what we do.
One area that we are particularly proud of is our work in Rwanda. Earlier this year, we announced a long-term relationship with their government to create a nationwide primary healthcare service. The Rwandan government is helping to make healthcare available and affordable for everyone and, like any other country can, they can improve their healthcare through our technology. We want to reach people living in rural areas as well as cities, and help those who are financially-poor as well as those lucky enough to live in more well-funded countries. In Rwanda, our services have been optimised for more basic phones that aren’t smart devices. This means we can help patients in rural communities who often struggle to access care and don’t always have access to the latest technology.
Q: You said in your TEDx talk that “We’re on the verge of being able to solve the problems of accessibility and affordability of healthcare forever.” One of the limiting factors to accessibility seems to be the number of healthcare providers globally. Given Babylon is one of the first digital health organizations to utilize artificial intelligence treatment algorithms, do you think artificial intelligence will have a robust role in addressing this need going forward?
A: AI and digital health can help solve the glaring gaps in our healthcare system in many ways, and a key one is ‘integrated care’. At the moment, healthcare is actually sick care where we only deal with people once they’re ill. Instead, we can use AI to help people stay well, by taking in data from their wearable technology or giving personalised information about their diet and exercise - and at Babylon, we are already doing this. However, once people do get sick, a huge amount of time and effort is lost because family doctors and hospital doctors aren’t joined up. They don’t use the same computer systems so they can’t easily share patient notes, or they have to go through different referral systems – and each time it adds delays and the chance of errors creeping in. Not only are we working to change this, but we’re working to change how patients get their treatment. Someone with a long-term condition should be able to take a blood-test at home, have the results fed into their app which alerts the specialist if they need an appointment. The patient chooses a time to meet, has the consultation through the app, works with their specialist to build a care plan, and the app encourages them to complete it whilst assessing the impact it’s having. This is our vision for properly joined-up and integrated care and is a key focus for the rest of 2020 and beyond.
The pandemic has shown us how we can make healthcare go further. New technologies, seminal advances in medicine and a radical worldwide awareness due to COVID-19. We are witnessing an inflection point. We truly believe that AI, big data and wearable tech can transform healthcare and enable each doctor to care for vastly greater numbers of people. New discoveries in quantum computing, AI, mixed reality, robotics, organ reconstruction, genetic engineering and synthetic biology will help us shape new possibilities that we would not even have imagined.
Q: You recently expanded Babylon to the United States. What’s your vision for your company in regards to digital health in the United States?
A: As the world continues to navigate new healthcare realities amongst ongoing COVID-19 challenges, we are honored to be partnering with impactful organizations in the United States to increase access to end-to-end, quality healthcare for populations neglected by a broken, fragmented system.
Demands on medical professionals, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities grow day by day across the United States and there has never been a greater need to protect and reduce the overall strain on our healthcare professionals. By utilizing AI-powered technology to keep patients informed, and a virtual care model to support the most vulnerable, Babylon can continue to drive forward its mission of increasing access to quality healthcare around the world.
As part of Babylon’s move into the US, we’ve already begun providing access to digital healthcare services to members of certain health plans in Missouri, Iowa, New York and California, building toward a 50-state network.
Babylon Health is working to put accessible and affordable healthcare into the hands of every person on Earth. Find out more at https://www.babylonhealth.com/us/about
Click here to read Part 2 of our interview with Dr. Parsa.