The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has dismissed claims a chatbot can diagnose medical conditions as accurately as a GP.
Babylon Health unveiled its new bot at an event held at the Royal College of Physicians yesterday, saying it allows patients to contact the bot via an app without an appointment, with the bot offering health advice based on what patients tell it.
The company said the chatbot, Babylon AI, has achieved medical exam scores of the same level as or higher than a human doctor.
But its claims were disputed by the RCGP.
"No app or algorithm will be able to do what a GP does," said Professor Martin Marshall, vice chair of the RCGP.
"Every day we deliver care to more than a million people across the UK, taking into account the physical, psychological and social factors that may be impacting on a patient's health."
"The potential of technology to support doctors to deliver the best possible patient care is fantastic, but at the end of the day, computers are computers, and GPs are highly-trained medical professionals; the two can't be compared and the former may support but will never replace the latter," he said.
Professor Marshall added that while an app can pass an automated clinical knowledge test, in real life, clinical scenarios don't always have "cut and dried" answers.
Babylon Health said its new Babylon AI tool took part in a series of robust tests, including the relevant sections of the MRCGP exam, which is the final test for a trainee GP and set by the Royal College of GPs.
The average pass mark over the past five years for real-life doctors is 72%, whereas Babylon's AI scored 81%.
Ali Parsa, Babylon's founder and CEO, said the results showed how AI can globally support healthcare and provide accurate health advice regardless of circumstance.
"Tonight's results clearly illustrate how AI-augmented health services can reduce the burden on healthcare systems around the world," Dr 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."
The company is also behind the NHS's GP at Hand app, which allows patients at five London clinics to consult with their GP via a video call.
But the College also publicly criticised the GP at Hand app for "cherry-picking" patients, leaving traditional GP services to deal with the most complex patients without sufficient resources, and does not endorse Babylon, or its GP at Hand service, being used in this way by in the NHS.
"Technology has the potential to transform the NHS, but it must be implemented in an equitable way that doesn't benefit some patients, and not others, and is not to the detriment of the general practice service as a whole," Marshall said.
Picture: Babylon Health founder Ali Parsa at Wednesday's launch
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Bobby Hellard is ITPro's Reviews Editor and has worked on CloudPro and ChannelPro since 2018. In his time at ITPro, Bobby has covered stories for all the major technology companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and regularly attends industry-leading events such as AWS Re:Invent and Google Cloud Next.
Bobby mainly covers hardware reviews, but you will also recognise him as the face of many of our video reviews of laptops and smartphones.