By Paul Sandle
LONDON (Reuters) - Canada's TELUS Health is joining forces with London-based AI company Babylon to bring virtual medical services, including video consultations, to Canadians who do not have a family doctor or are in rural locations far from a surgery.
TELUS Health, a provider of electronic medical records, said AI services would complement existing healthcare provision by making it quicker, simpler and cheaper to access care.
"We are absolutely committed to leveraging the power of technology to drive better health outcomes for Canadians," TELUS Health vice president Juggy Sihota said on Friday.
"We went around the globe to look for the best partner for virtual care, and from both a values perspective as well as a technology perspective we have found the best partner in Babylon."
The London-based tech firm, founded in 2013 by entrepreneur Ali Parsa, aims to offer medical advice on a par with a family doctor by using AI to assess disease symptoms.
It deploys its technology through a smartphone chatbot app that provides a diagnosis and passes the data on to a doctor accessible via a video consultation, potentially offering a big saving in time and money for healthcare providers.
Parsa said Babylon, which is already providing healthcare services in Britain and Rwanda and signed a deal with Prudential Corporation Asia last month, wanted to expand into North America, and Canada was the best place to start.
"It has a government that is very progressive in the use of technology and in healthcare provision," he said.
"What is exciting about Canada is that we will be providing artificial intelligence and we will also be providing clinical services."
Sihota said Canada, like many countries in Europe, had an ageing population and shortage of family doctors, and in addition it also had the challenge of around 20 percent of its people living in rural areas.
"Five million Canadian families do not have primary care physicians at all," she said. "AI is a more efficient way for patients to see their doctors."
TELUS Health, a unit of telecommunications firm TELUS (T.TO), would work with health ministries to roll out virtual services, she said, building on the relationship it already had with doctors, pharmacies and authorities.
Babylon will develop a mobile app especially tailored to the Canadian healthcare system, Parsa said, and video consultations will be provided by licensed Canadian healthcare providers.
The two companies did not disclose financial details.
(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)