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There is a technology revolution going on in GP practices right now, driven by the extraordinary circumstances of the coronavirus crisis. After years in which it seemed the local surgery was stuck in the digital dark ages, many have leapfrogged into the future in a matter of weeks, offering online and video consultations to patients.
Just six weeks ago, an entrepreneurial GP, Dr Alexander Finlayson, launched NYE Health. He describes it as a way to make the clinician's own device - whether that's their phone, tablet or desktop web browser - "NHS-compliant".
It means that doctors - whether in hospital or GP surgeries - can have video and audio conversations with patients or with other health workers in a secure way. Dr Finlayson, who has worked on global health projects in Somalia and elsewhere, says NYE had been under way as a theoretical project for a while. When confronted with the coronavirus crisis, he and a team of designers, engineers, and clinicians put the product together over an intense three-day brainstorming session. It was released on 13 March and has already done tens of thousands of consultations, with users everywhere from intensive therapy units to dermatology departments and GP surgeries. Just like AccuRx, NYE is pre-revenue and has not really thought much yet about a business model. But it has already attracted interest from potential overseas customers and is being advised by Twitter's co-founder Biz Stone. Only 18 people are working on the project, but it sounds as though they could soon need to recruit many more. The trailblazer for video consultations in the UK was Babylon, which offers the GP at Hand service. This provides an alternative to the GP surgery and has proved popular with time-poor young professionals in London, who can book a video consultation at short notice rather than wait weeks to see the doctor. Babylon, which also makes great play of its work applying artificial intelligence to healthcare, raised $550m (£439m) last year from backers including the Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund, at a valuation of $2bn. You might think that this was a business expanding rapidly during the current health crisis. Instead, it is taking advantage of the government's job retention scheme to furlough 5% of its 2,000-strong workforce. In a letter to staff, chief executive Ali Parsa said ideas his company had pioneered, such as the provision of healthcare on a mobile phone, had now become commonplace. "There are many others who are doing the same thing and the current crisis has forced mass adoption and commoditisation of these technologies," he wrote. A spokesman told me that Babylon no longer considered itself a telemedicine company, and was shifting its focus to AI. It seems the disrupter has been disrupted, and minnows like AccuRx and NYE may play a bigger role in transforming healthcare delivery in the UK than the mighty Babylon.