/ Health, Home & Energy, Technology

Would you use an online doctor?

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…


At present I use a very efficient GP practice and have no difficulty in getting appointments on weekdays. They do offer pre-booked appointments on Saturday too but I have never booked one. Repeat prescriptions can be ordered online and picked up at the local supermarket two days later or when I’m next shopping. On three occasions since moving to this practice I have been referred to specialists and that has been handled very efficiently. My GP surgery is a fifteen minute walk or 5 minutes by car. I feel very lucky and would not even think of using an online GP.

I’m planning to move home and I will have to switch to another GP and know I will have to travel several miles to attend appointments, but I need local advice on which practice to sign up with. I have friends in the NHS and have had useful advice over the phone in the past, so I don’t discount the idea of using an online service. For example my GP drags me in for regular medications checks and asthma checks and the answers are always the same. I am strongly in favour of medication checks because they provide the opportunity to cut down on unnecessary medication, but in many cases this could be done online or on the phone.

In some parts of the country there is a chronic shortage of doctors and online doctors may help ease the problem so that everyone can see a GP face-to-face when necessary.


The BMA and the Government say there is a shortage of 10,000 GP’S in the UK, but the majority of GP’s are female and a fair proportion only work part time, only doing 2 or 3 sessions a week, if they worked a full 5 day week there would be less of a problem!!!

Iain T says:
6 February 2016

In the knowledge that there is a shortage of GPs, many have chosen to work less hours for less pay. One can only presume that working more hours for more pro rats pay just isn’t worth the increased stress. How would you persuade a well educated mobile professional group of people, who have qualifications allowing them to work in any 1st world country, to work more shifts for the NHS?

Jack says:
1 March 2016

And what is your point?


Only yesterday was I told that a GP was driving from Swindon to either Bridlington or Scarborough, which is a crazy waste of resources.

I don’t know how or if you can persuade GPs to work full-time or work in areas where there is need. At one time I knew a GP who moved from working in pleasant residential area on the outskirts of a city to a difficult inner city area because he wanted the challenge and to make his mark. I don’t know how long he held down that job but I see he is now working in what I recall is a pleasant area, just along the road from a well respected independent school.

Every one of the GPs at my practice is part-time but the practice is open to new patients and there are other GP surgeries in the area. Some were working only four sessions a week but this has changed and a couple of them are doing eight sessions plus covering Saturday mornings by rota.


I think you live in a fairly affluent area which doesn’t have an industrial heritage, a big dollop of long term sick benefit claimants, people living in poverty or eating unhealthy diets and drinking too much alcohol. it’s a bit of a different story up here in the North east.


Seven years ago, aged 62, was the last time I had an appointment with my GP, when I had been ill for several weeks. He quickly arranged all sorts of tests which ruled out suspected cancer, and I eventually returned to full health , for which I am grateful, and also appreciate the efforts my GP made on my behalf.

In the intervening seven years I have only twice tried to get an appointment at the surgery and failed on both occasions, instead receiving a consultation once over the telephone when my GP called me back the next day. The surgery has adopted the practice of not allowing patients to book ahead for a face-to-face appointment; to do so the patient must ring in every day to see if there is an appointment available … .. with ANY of the GPs.

I am fortunate to enjoy good health, but this may not be the case in 5, 10 years or so. I feel I must no longer rely on my local GP practice, 4 miles distant, but must rely more on my own efforts.
I do not have private health insurance but recently paid for a full check up at a private clinic. I will probably do this every other year, as it was a bit pricey to consider it annually. If the need arose I would certainly take advice from an online doctor service and, yes, would expect to pay for this service.

wavechange is fortunate to have such a good GP service. If I were in his/her shoes I think I would be prepared to travel back to my old address for consultations with my existing available doctor.


I presume that not offering advance bookings is because of failed appointments, but that is hard on those who behave responsibly.

I would be very happy to continue to use my present GP practice, which I chose on the basis of recommendations from neighbours, but the nurse who did routine tests last week thought that I would have to move. This is presumably because of the travelling time if a home visit was needed. I cannot recall having had a home visit since I was a child – but we are all getting older.