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?