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Discovery brings AI to healthcare

Launches app to connect and facilitate easy interaction between patients and medical professionals.
The app serves as a form of convenience and guidance but does not seek to replace medical consultation and examinations. Picture: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Discovery Health members can now access a library of healthcare information and virtual consultations via the newly-launched app, DrConnect.

The app, which uses technology, digital tools and Artificial Intelligence (AI), lets members connect and engage with doctors in South Africa as well as from around the world. Into its second week, 200 South African doctors and 7 000 South African members are already using the platform.

After pinpointing your condition from a list of options, the app “curates a series of answers from a number of doctors. Answers are tailor-made to suit client and patient needs,” says Discovery Health CEO Dr Jonathan Broomberg.  

“The answers are coming from trained doctors, a very large number of them, and doctors are curating by commenting and approving some answers more than others. It’s a curated library of answers that are building up over time,” he said.

The app was developed in partnership with HealthTap, a Silicon Valley-based health platform company. According to Broomberg, the platform is about eight years’ old now, and has about 105 000 doctors signed up from around the world. He said there are around 80 million users globally.

Read: The most important healthcare company on the planet

“We’ve licensed their platform and everything that goes around it, and we’ve integrated it into our system to build the DrConnect app, it is really leveraging off the HealthTap platform,” he said.

The app has four distinguished levels to it.

First, Broomberg said, a member can search for answers related to their condition from a collection of almost 5.5 billion previously curated and developed answers. If the member is not adequately satisfied with the answer on the system, they can move onto step two. This is where they can submit a question and a medical practitioner from around the world will provide a professional, accurate and credible response.

The third step involves the technology of AI. Broomberg said one can submit their symptoms into an AI checker, which will help narrow down and determine a condition or diagnosis by virtue of questions and evaluation.

“It (the AI bot) doesn’t give you medical advice, because only a doctor can do that, but it gives you guidance as to whether this is something you should see to very urgently or whether you should wait,” he said.

If a client is still not satisfied with their output an option is available to connect with a registered doctor who the patient already has personal contact with, for a virtual consultation. This can either be via text, call or video.

The fee attached to a virtual consultation is R267, which is paid from a member’s applicable day-to-day benefits based on their plan type. Broomberg said this is a much cheaper option when compared to formal GP office consultation of about R406. However, he cautioned that members should not use virtual consultations to replace face-to-face visits where these might be clinically necessary.

The app serves as a form of convenience and guidance and does not seek to replace medical consultation and examinations. It works as a supplementary for clients to confirm symptoms and get guidance on whether a condition is serious.

“People have got more general medical questions that don’t require proper medical examination, can do that using the library. Then you may have symptoms where you just want a bit of guidance on how serious a condition is, you can do that with an AI [bot]. If you do actually have a particular problem, then you need to see a doctor,” said Broomberg.

The app is free for download for both Android and iPhone and is only available to members administered by Discovery Health members.

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