With waiting times in doctor’s surgeries on the rise and people increasingly moving around the country, it seems likely that online doctors could become ‘a thing’. But would you ever use a digital doctor?
Last night an advert on the train caught my eye; it was for online doctor appointments. I know the internet is full of advice, some expert and some questionable. So this got me thinking – would I ever use an online doctor?
Not being familiar with the concept, I decided to find out what it’s all about. A quick Google showed plenty of sites advertising the ability to speak directly with a doctor online. There were even recognisable high street pharmacies with these facilities on their website.
Maybe I’ve been blind to this digital medical revolution?
Is there a place for digital doctors?
We seem to be getting ever more interested in tracking our health, with the rise of health apps and connected health devices like FitBits. Interestingly, a poll conducted last year revealed that GPs were concerned that the growth of smartphone health advice would lead to an increase of the ‘worried well’ lingering in their waiting rooms.
And then there’s the increase in online medical ‘services’, such as buying medicines online and online allergy tests. Neither are necessarily to be recommended, but both seem to have a steady flow of customers.
The news is regularly reminding us how waiting times are increasing in our surgeries, and how precious doctors’ time is. I’m certainly conscious of the expected waiting times at my surgery, which is why I’ve attended walk-in centres for medical attention.
But I do think that we’re getting more impatient with our expected waiting times. Is this down to modern-life time constraints, or is there real demand for instant, accessible, specialist advice online?
Digital: the next step in triage?
Growing up, I had the same doctor until I left home. Ok, I rarely saw my GP when I was living at home, but I still had a good relationship with him; he could remember administering my first jabs and the time my poor mum turned up with both her tots covered in chickenpox.
Since moving away from home, and despite having registered with my local surgery, I’m yet to see my doctor. Of course, this is a good thing as it (hopefully) means I’m healthy. But I do use Google every now and again if I’m concerned about anything, and I have plenty of friends with children who use digital advice before a trip to the doctor.
So I wonder if digital doctors are the way forward for us? A sort of triage approach to dealing with our niggles, reducing the pressure on surgeries and satisfying our needs for instant answers.
But, for me, there’s more than adequate justification for physically seeing a doctor; there are some things that I don’t think digital advice can achieve. After all, there’s a distinct difference between a nasty cold and a longer-term and complex illness. And being able to spot the difference between the two is something a digital doctor would struggle to do.
What are your thoughts on this? Have you ever used a digital doctor, or can you see any circumstances where you would be happy to try one? Maybe this trend will just create a rise in the ‘worried well’, as GPs seem to think…