You feel unwell, but you’ve phoned your doctors surgery and they have no appointments for the next week. Would you consider an online consultation with a doctor instead? You could have the appointment at a time to suit you, the doctor would be highly qualified, and you wouldn’t have to wait. It seems that the overwhelming answer to this would be no.
Following on from the launch of the new smart phone app Dr Now, which is the latest in a line of UK start-up apps offering online GP diagnosis, Pryers Solicitors have asked patients across the United Kingdom if they would use an online consultation service, and a staggering 68% of respondents said no.
I think the reasons for this are simple. The personal interaction with your own doctor are important – they know you, know your medical history and background, and so are the people best capable of assessing your medical needs. The face-to-face interaction are important, especially for the older generation, and obviously, if you need a prescription, an online consultation may mean you still need an appointment from you own doctor to get a prescription for medication. Add in the fact that it is not free, and that tax payers are already paying for the NHS, along with very expensive prescriptions, and this seems to be a factor that turns people off the idea of ‘virtual doc.’ Ultimately, I think people believe that a doctor needs to actually see you in the flesh to make a judgement on what is wrong with you.
“We were a little surprised by these results, we did expect that people may take a little convincing to use these apps, but to see it was such a strong ‘no’ across all age ranges and genders is surprising. It is particularly worrying when you consider that 85% of the over 65 age group said ‘no’ to using these apps, as these are the people who are more likely to need a doctor’s help. If we continue to promote the use of apps as a way to save the NHS we run the risk of marginalising the most at risk members of society.”
So it is a definite no from the public. But I do think there is a flip side. My little boy often has sniffles, coughs and colds, and sometimes, as a parent, all I really need is some advice and some answers to my questions. I don’t actually want to drag a poorly, miserable child out to a surgery filled with sick, sneezy people, but would like the help and advice, and preferably from a trained doctor. In these circumstances, I think an online consultation would be really useful.
Another time this would be very much a positive would be in times of epidemics. Rotavirus, Norovirus, Swine Flu, all these have been times when people have been encouraged to stay away from doctors surgeries to prevent spreading of the disease. I think many people would then consider an online consultation to allay their fears and seek guidance.
But ultimately, I find myself siding with the majority. I may enjoy a game of online scrabble, but I don’t want to play online Russian Roulette by not seeking proper advice for a medical problem – it may be something minor, but what if it’s not?