PUTRAJAYA, August 8 — Prudential launched today a free mobile app for everyone in Malaysia to assess their health, get artificial intelligence to explain their symptoms, and consult a doctor online.
The insurance company also claimed that its “Pulse” health assistant can predict a dengue outbreak three months before it happens, besides acting as a fitness tracker that monitors calorie intake and daily steps.
“Pulse is a great example of how the public and private sector can work together to help empower people to be more proactive, preventive and promotive in their approach to health care,” Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said during the launch of Pulse here today.
“With instant, reliable and relevant health information at their fingertips, people will be able to make better, more informed decisions when it comes to managing their own health, particularly in the continuum of care for non-communicable diseases.”
The Pulse app’s health assessment and symptom checker are run by United Kingdom-based health care service Babylon, while its online doctor consultation is provided by local platform, DoctorOnCall. Prudential customers get free online doctor consultations on Pulse, while other users pay RM10 for a 15-minute consultation.
Pulse’s health assessment is a lengthy questionnaire using a multiple choice format that checks a user’s health status in terms of organ health, nutrition, physical activity, and mental health. Questions are posed about a user’s eating, drinking, smoking, sleeping, and exercise habits, as well as stress levels and self-esteem.
The Prudential app asks if the user or the user’s immediate family have been diagnosed with various diseases like stomach or lung cancer, diabetes, heart attack, angina, childhood pneumonia, migraine, dementia, stroke, or headaches.
Questions are also posed if the user or their immediate family have been diagnosed with conditions affecting their stomach, bowel, liver, heart, head, blood, blood vessels, bones, joints, skin, lungs, nerves, or thyroid, or mental health problems.
Pulse quizzes users if they take certain medicines like pain relief NSAIDS, amiodarone for irregular heartbeats, or lithium for mental disorders. The app also checks one’s sexual habits and history, including questions on sexually transmitted illnesses the user previously contracted, like HIV.
Questions are also asked about recreational drug use, like if a user has taken cocaine or injected drugs.
Pulse’s symptom checker identifies a possible condition that a user is suffering based on symptoms that a user asks via text, like “headache”, and the user’s answers to further questions by the app in multiple-choice format.
“If the symptoms persist and my condition does not improve, I need to seek medical advice. However, if the condition improves, that’s the end, I don’t have to rush to the doctor every time,” said Wong Eng Teng, Prudential Services Asia chief officer of ecosystems implementation, during a presentation of the app at the launch.
“In case I’d like to get a second opinion, I can actually then move on to talk to a doctor, and I can get a doctor within 15 minutes,” he added, referring to the online doctor consultation feature on Pulse.
When asked at the launch event if Prudential could take advantage of user data in Pulse to raise insurance premiums for future customers with poor health, Prudential Assurance Malaysia Berhad CEO Gan Leong Hin said Babylon owned the data.
“As far as Prudential is concerned, there’s a respect for data privacy,” Gan said.
Babylon’s privacy notice on the Pulse app claims that personal identifiers will be removed if Babylon uses one’s medical information to improve its products, services, and software, but also states that it may share a user’s personal data with members of their corporate group and their partners.
“Where you access our services through your health insurance provider, and where you have given your consent, we will need to let your insurance company know your name, email address, policy number, location (based on IP address), demographic information and other similar information,” Babylon adds.
Pulse’s privacy notice states that the app may disclose a user’s personal data, including information obtained from hosted providers on the app, to entities in the Prudential Group.
“We may also pass on your personal data to any legal, regulatory, or government bodies, law enforcement authorities, government officials, and/or a third party where required by law or regulation.”
HIV, which Pulse asks users about, is a notifiable disease under the law. Using cocaine, which is also another item in the app’s questionnaire, is illegal in Malaysia.
“Pulse is accessible to everyone for free, aligned with Prudential’s ambition and the Malaysian government’s efforts to make health care affordable and accessible to all,” Gan said in a statement.
Privacy campaigners in the UK urged the British government last month to state how it will protect sensitive patient information after announcing that Amazon Alexa would use information from the National Health Service (NHS) official website to answer users asking the voice-assisted technology about health conditions.
“The giant data monopolies want one thing: more and more data to drive their huge profits. Entrusting Amazon’s Alexa to dispense health advice to patients simply opens the door to the holy grail – our NHS data. This is the beginning of a Mission Creep,” Labour deputy leader Tom Watson had tweeted.
Editor’s note: Non-Prudential customers are charged RM10 for a 15-minute online doctor consultation on Pulse, not RM15 as originally reported based on a Prudential officer’s statement, who has since corrected his remark.