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Telus’ Healthcare App “Babylon” Could Corporatize Canadian Healthcare

BY: Amelia Kwan

When you hear “Telus”, it’s likely that healthcare is not the first thing that comes to mind. As one of Canada’s telecommunications giants, Telus Corporation is one of the largest and most well-known companies offering a wide range of products and services including video, television, internet access, mobility - and healthcare. 

Telus Health, a division of Telus Corporation, partnered with Babylon Health, a UK-based health service provider to launch a free app offering medical services and consultations without the need to see a doctor. Promising to “complement and fill the gap” in Canada’s healthcare system, Babylon allows for patients to analyze symptoms with an AI chatbot or book a video consultation with a doctor. 

With COVID-19 making in-person consultations far riskier than ever, as well as limiting access to healthcare for those in rural or remote areas, Babylon sounds like the perfect solution at first glance. But if you take even a quick glance at the reviews on the App Store, or open the Privacy Policy that normally you would simply agree to and skip without reading, you will notice something far more sinister below the surface. 

So far, public opinion regarding the Babylon healthcare app is rather polarized; split between many who found the app easy to use, accessible and effective - and many others who believe the entire project stinks of corporate greed, replacing family doctors with an unreliable substitute. 

While the app is easy to download and free to use, experts caution the use of Babylon as a provider for medical advice. The Lancet, a British medical journal, countered Babylon’s claim that their AI chatbot could outperform a human doctor in a study that found there was no convincing evidence supporting it. 

Other concerns have been raised regarding the tool’s performance, given that the technology is still new with further recommended clinical evaluation, in addition to concerns that patients would use the chatbot’s information as medical advice rather than see a doctor in person. 

Medical services aside, there is something far more concerning - the privacy policy and terms and conditions. For example, the app’s terms and conditions states “video recording of patient visits is copied and stored on Babylon's servers, and that the video may be shared with corporate partners and entities outside of Canada, including foreign governments.” 

Who in their right mind would want their private health information shared with “other corporate partners” and “foreign governments”? Although it technically conforms to federal and provincial laws, it poses a huge security risk for sensitive patient information which could result in your medical information being shared against your will without your knowledge. 

Not only that, but critics say that the Telus healthcare system undermines local doctors and existing relationships with their patients. For example, doctors who work for Telus Health are paid $38 per call - almost double the $20 per call that doctors are paid by Alberta Health. 

Allowing corporations to control doctors’ pay rates will privatize healthcare by monetizing and profiting from medical services, as well as undermining existing systems offered by the government. 

Overall, a privacy review of the Babylon app has not been completed - and may not be for another year. Patients are advised to use the app at their own discretion, but to also follow up with an in-person appointment. 

*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.


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