GP consultations in an app: what next??

Part of being digitally literate is the need to cope with the pros and cons of emerging services online.    I was sat watching the TV the other day and an advert popped up for Push Doctor an app which apparently allows you to access a doctor online rather than visiting a GPs practice.    I smiled as the advert came on as I have found myself complaining about the difficulty of getting access to a GP on a number of occasions since having returned to the UK.    You can only get an appointment by phoning up first thing in the morning as an emergency and hoping for an available slot or by booking weeks if not months in advance.   As such the idea of an on demand doctor via an app on my smartphone sounds like a good idea, however is it?

An online doctor can take all of the personal history and also ask the same diagnostic questions as a GP may be able to do however they don’t have the physical access to you.    They don’t have the ability to carry out a physical examination and to take diagnostic readings as to your blood pressure, heart rate, etc.     They also don’t have the same relationship which may exist with a long standing family GP, for those lucky enough to have one.    Without the physical access I am not sure I would feel comfortable with an online doctor prescribing me medication.

I also wonder about the credibility of an online doctor.    My GP has been installed in a health practice and therefore will have been vetted by the practice for suitability, experience and skill.   They also are tangible in my ability to actually meet with them, see them in the local area, etc.   They have a physicality which an online doctor doesn’t have.   They can’t just disappear by disabling an online account in the same way that on online doctor may be able to do.

I think the idea of an online doctor is an excellent one especially when the NHS is as stretched as it is often reported to be.     That said I still think there is some work to be done in winning people over and encouraging people, including myself, to make use of such a service.

Thinking a bit further ahead I wonder if the solution to the diagnostic readings side of things might be the increasing number of us wearing fitness devices.  Through these devices our online doctor might be able to gather rudimentary, and possibly in the future more diagnostic, data such as heart rate, exercise habits, etc.    In doing so they might be better able to diagnose and given the constant monitoring of such devices they may prove to be better able to diagnose than the currently conventional GP.

The online doctor is but one of a number of emerging services which technology is facilitating, however are we ready to accept and use such new services?

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Awareness of technology

gps-304842_640Digital literacy includes an element of awareness of the technologies which we use however some technologies are more evident to us than others.     When we are updating our social media platforms via our mobile phone or tablet, this is clearly technology at use.    This kind of technology and this kind of usage come easily to mind.    It may even be the first thought which arises when some mentions technology use.      Equally using a computer system at work to respond to emails and create documents is likely to come quite easily to mind.   But what of the technologies we use which may not come as easily to mind?

More and more new cars now come equipped with Sat Nav.   This technology has now been around for a while and is becoming more normal and accepted.   It seems quite simple in that all it does is get us from place A to place B however in doing so it generates data regarding our travel habits which in turn can identify our home and places of work, our preferred route to work, the school our children go to if we drop them off, which other people and cars are in our household, etc.   I am not sure we give much thought to this.

An emerging technology is that of fitness trackers.   Again more and more people are using them but I doubt it would be one of the first items listed when talking about technology use.   Like Sat Nav these have information about where we go to and also when however in addition they have information in relation to sleep patterns and heart rate.

We are also seeing an increasing number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices starting to make appearances within our homes.    Having recently had to look at purchasing a new washing machine I was presented with the option of a Wi-Fi connected machine.   You can also get your central heating, lighting and power sockets on the internet so they can be controlled via an app.    On face value these devices present a new level of convenience with easy control of your home from your phone including while away however more connected devices means a greater online footprint which therefore represents a greater online cyber security risk.

The above are only a small number of technologies, some which we easily perceive as technology while others we are less aware of or possibly just less aware of the implications of their use.

Do give enough consideration to the implications of using a new technology when going out and purchasing the shiny new tech toy?  

Can we actual predict the implications given that they may not manifest themselves to some years further down the line?