New online GP services promise to make access to healthcare easier and quicker. Would you use a digital doctor?
Along with an app where you can book appointments, check your symptoms, and order prescriptions, the NHS has recently been rolling out a new service where you can have an online consultation with a GP.
‘GP at Hand’ promises to revolutionise the way we see a doctor, allowing patients to book near-instant consultations that take place via video chat.
But despite the positives, such as convenience, some have raised drawbacks. In order to use the GP at Hand app, patients have to de-register from their existing practice and instead sign-up as NHS patients to a private healthcare company, Babylon, which has partnered with the health service.
The full story of GP at Hand’s promises and pitfalls was covered in this month’s magazine, but we wanted to get some additional thoughts from some of the Which? staff who have used the app.
We also asked a GP for their opinion, and have included their thoughts below.
I am a member of a private medical insurance scheme and noticed that they offer an online GP service.
The website advised that they can make recommendations for treatment and at the time I was suffering with abdominal pains most days.
After a short discussion with the GP they advised me that I potentially had colon, cervical or bowel cancer and would be best to attend a GP in person. They referred me for a colonoscopy, which thankfully came back clear. It turned out I had a simple dairy intolerance.
It was very fast to download an app to my phone and book in an appointment within 24 hours. The consultant was very friendly but didn’t seem all that professional to me and it certainly didn’t feel like a visit to my own GP.
I’m a very happy Babylon patient. A few years ago I emigrated from New Zealand and have found the NHS to be excruciatingly frustrating to navigate. I bounced around GPs and clinics to the point that I gave up because my health just didn’t seem worth the stress.
Then I was recommended Babylon. Appointments are easy to book and fit into your schedule, the doctors are patient and helpful and, when you need to see someone in person, that’s something which can easily be arranged.
I like that I get sent a summary of my appointments which makes me feel like I have some control of my own health.
I use the Babylon/GP at Hand product somewhat involuntarily – I started the process of switching from my normal GP practice but didn’t complete it, only to find some months later that it had been completed without my consent form and I had been deregistered at my previous practice!
This issue aside, I do appreciate the convenience of it for minor requests and issues. I would worry, however, if I were required to use it for long-term consistent treatment, or needed more major attention. I also feel that the attention you are given as a patient is lessened with GP at Hand, and there is of course no opportunity for the doctor to spot physical signs of an illness that they might in person.
It’s not a replacement for a proper appointment, and Babylon will need to become a lot more transparent for me to have greater confidence, but as a relatively young person with few medical complaints I shall doubtless carry on using it until something more serious comes along.
An anonymous GP
The main concern for me about services like GP At Hand is the real and very serious threat they pose to the financial sustainability of conventional GP practices.
GP at Hand can decline to register patients with complex conditions in a way that conventional services cannot, and at any rate is unlikely to appeal to the frail, elderly and vulnerable.
They will essentially cream off the most straight-forward and ‘cost effective’ patients leaving already extremely overstretched conventional practices unable to remain financially viable. Closure of general practices is a very real and serious problem with many of the neediest patients losing or at risk of losing their local surgery.
GP At Hand may be very convenient for tech-savvy and generally healthy working age people, but it threatens the very fabric of general practice for the patients who need it most.
Have you had an experience with an online GP? Are such digital health services going to help the NHS or damage it?
Join Catie, Amelia and Adam by giving your experiences and thoughts, positive, neutral or negative, in the comments below.