A local company, babyl, unveiled an artificially intelligent chatbot that uses machine learning to interact with patients using voice or free text. It is a powered computer programme specialised in medical triage that can provide medical diagnosis.
The new feature will be integrated under babyl’s digital healthcare platform. This means that consulting patients will no longer have to talk directly to the doctors or nurses as the system has the ability to handle some of the complex queries from patients.
“To make our service universally scalable and affordable, we have built a comprehensive medical artificial intelligence [AI] agent that mimics a doctor’s brain,” Tracey McNeil, the chief executive officer of babyl Rwanda told participants at an event in Kigali.
After the launch of the new feature, babyl’s digital health care system, which allows patients to access doctors using their mobile phones, will now benefit more people as the time taken by doctors to respond to each patient will reduce.
McNeil said the next step is now distributing chatbot enabled tablets to different nurses and doctors at the different facilities that they are presently working with, as well as training more doctors.
Dr Patrick Singa, the Medical Director at babyl Rwanda, explained that the consultation is not a tiring process as a patient is only required to send a short message to babyl or go through a few steps on babyl smartphone application.
Currently, the company is partnering with 150 pharmacies across the country, and within the period of one year of operation, about 750,000 people have been registered with babyl and 135,000 appointments have been booked.
They say the system has been adopted faster than mobile money in Rwanda.
Meanwhile, the company officially announced its partnership with the government to extend its services to more people through integrating RAMA and Mutuelle health schemes into the system.
“We are now going to start working with the Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) and the Ministry of Health to enable RAMA and Mutuelle card holders to access our services. This is an important partnership to us,” McNeil told the media.
The innovative and cost effective solution will now be accessed by many people across the country.
The Minister for Health, Diane Gashumba, said that the initiative is a step in the right direction, adding that it will facilitate the government’s efforts toward transforming the country’s health sector through adoption of digital technologies.
“The government is taking a bold step foward by adopting cutting age technologies that can help the country transform its healthcare sector. With this digital system, we expect to reduce a number of patients who go to district and referral hospitals and reduce the burdens normally exerted to our doctors,” she said, adding that the objective is to make Rwanda a hub for digital healthcare.
The minister said that the government targets to have 2,148 health posts across the country, but this won’t easily be achieved unless private partners come up with innovative services.
At the moment, babyl is also partnering with the Rwanda National Identification Agency (NIRDA) to make sure that they treat the right patients.
“We are also trying to keep electronic medical record of every patient which would allow us to review our services delivery, and follow up on our partners to know whether they’re offering the right services,” McNeil said.
With the system, she said, they will help the government reduce the cost of consultations.
But Singa says there are cases that the digital system cannot handle, such as where a patient will be required to go to the hospital. Cases of women with labour, surgical or medical emergencies, or bleeding, are some of them, he said.
He said that babyl is providing a complementary healthcare service to the already existing services, which won’t replace the existing healthcare system.
Company officials revealed that they are working to extend the digital healthcare system to other countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, and Canada, and that Rwanda will the company’s digital healthcare hub for its extension plans.