A leading HealthTech platform helping to triage and redirect GP appointments is preparing for further growth after coronavirus accelerated its uptake.

Doctorlink, one of the UK’s largest online Symptom Assessment providers to the NHS, offers automated triage to GP practices powered by AI, designed to ease the burden on frontline medical staff.

Its active user base has almost quadrupled over the last six months and GP surgery uptake has grown by a third in the last quarter, the firm reports.

Through messaging and video and phone consultations provided to a patient’s own NHS GP, the firm claims that it was reducing call volumes by a third even before coronavirus.

“We are effectively acting as a first point of contact for patients, particularly at a time when NHS 111 is experiencing unprecedented and unmanageable demand – so it has been essential for us to keep evolving our assessment and advice as the pandemic progresses,” the firm’s CEO Rupert Spiegelberg, a tech veteran appointed to the role late last year, explained to BusinessCloud.

“Practices using the service were able to redirect around one in five patients to a more appropriate service for their needs, often a pharmacy consultation or self-care at home.”

The platform already provides access to healthcare for 12.5 million NHS patients across 1,500 GP practices, and was recently selected by the NHS for a new digital roll out that will see online video consultations and digital triage extended to millions more.

He said that while the NHS has always had a digital-first system in mind, the pandemic has accelerated its goal to offer all NHS patients the option of an online consultation by 2021.

Doctorlink’s technology is part of this plan, and relies on algorithms developed by a team of expert clinicians.

Spiegelberg said the firm adopts Bayesian logic, a form of critical thinking used by doctors to decide the likelihood of something happening based on available evidence.

It then adds AI learning into the mix, which continuously improves the methodology.

It’s a process which he said is unique in a market “dominated by AI-chatbots” which opt for a trial-and-error approach in order to learn and improve. That approach, he said, inevitably leads to bad outcomes for patients.

Doctorlink’s algorithms on the other hand are advanced enough, he says, to be classified as a Medical Equipment device.

Spiegelberg said the platform was medico-legal compliant and “indemnified with rigorous clinical governance and licensed independent peer review”.

The firm was the first HealthTech platform of its kind to launch an algorithm to identify and assess potential cases of coronavirus, which it began in January of this year before the first case had been detected in the UK.

The achievement was in part due to the firm’s experience having provider digital healthcare tools during the MERS pandemic, a respiratory disease first reported in 2012.

It has since updated its COVID-19 algorithms more than 15 times to reflect new medical and academic knowledge about the virus as developments are made.

But despite the clout of the technology to diagnose and direct patients, he said the technology was not another AI slowly threatening to take away jobs, recognising that the idea of HealthTech often “trigged mixed reactions from both patients and healthcare professionals”.

Instead, the technology is designed to optimise the healthcare process, he said, citing a potential 15,000 annual clinical hours saved per general practice each year.

“Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 outbreak has changed the way patients and clinicals alike view digital health care solutions,” he said.

“As the current crisis has shown, there is vast potential for a digital transformation to complement and enhance the current role of medical practitioners, ensuring patients receive a more comprehensive and proactive programme of care.”

That capacity, accelerated by the necessities of nationwide lockdowns, would lead to global healthcare systems becoming digital-first within five years, he predicts.

Founded by Eight Roads, a global proprietary investment firm backed by Fidelity, Doctorlink is headquartered in the UK with offices in the US, and has more than 125 employees globally.

Looking ahead, he said DoctorLink is now working to extend its reach to support public and private healthcare providers around the world.

“From diagnosing acute conditions and triaging patients, to providing in-depth population health analysis and video consultations, the capacity for algorithms and AI technology to remove frictions and create efficiencies within the current system are substantial.”

The firm already provides its technology to both the NHS and private healthcare practices, including AXA, BUPA, Kaiser Permanente and Web MD.

It is now also working with Microsoft Azure as part of their Co Sell Program for Digital Health to support public and private healthcare providers.

He said that related industries such as insurance are also now showing interest in providing better and more usable tools for their patients.