The Doctor’s In… Online, That is! Would You Trust a Digital Doctor?
Sometimes, trying to get a doctor’s appointment can be difficult. Even phoning through to reception often takes a number of attempts, especially during busy times. As if these factors wasn’t deterrent enough, it’s also difficult for many to get to the doctor’s surgery, particularly if there’s no parking close by.
Introducing the Digital Doctor
The idea of being able to simply log on to your laptop and chat to your doctor online is an appealing one. It means no more waiting for days for an appointment, no hanging on the phone, and no awkward journeys to get to the surgery. You can simply chat to a medical professional from the comfort of your own home.
Whilst this may sound good in practice, in reality, is this the best solution?
How Widely Practiced is it?
According to statistics in a recent document released by Accenture, just 6% of doctors across the country in 2012 used electronic communication to provide a consultation or help with diagnosis. So far, very few medical professionals offer the service; and there is probably a number of reasons for this.
- Potential breach of security. When talking to a doctor in an office, all information remains private; between just doctor and patient; aside from any comments added to medical notes. However, when talking online, there is a far greater risk that the conversation could be accessed by others, which is of great concern, particularly when discussing sensitive health issues.
- Lack of ‘face to face’ time. When the issue was raised on the BBC website, many comments from users focused on the problem of accurate diagnosis, and the increased potential for misdiagnosis without undergoing a physical examination. One person commented that the concept seemed to be ‘just another very thinly veiled attempt to reduce queues and waiting lists for treatment under the NHS.’
- Lack of continuity. For people with chronic illness, seeing the same GP each time can be important, as they are likely to have a better understanding of your condition. Talking online could potentially result in a number of doctors being involved, some of whom might not be familiar with your medical history. In addition to this, some may be only newly qualified, which is likely to deter some people from using the online service.
It’s easy to see what advantages operating online can offer to the NHS. Offering a ‘digital doctor’ service could reduce waiting times, prevent those with infectious illness from coming into the surgery, and save money.
It also offers benefits to the patient. For those who struggle to leave the house because of poor mobility, talking to a doctor online could improve their access to medical advice and treatment. It may also help those suffering with mental illness, who may otherwise feel reluctant to seek out help in a clinic or psychologist’s office. The freedom of discussing health in the comfort of your own home could also help to make patients feel less inhibited, and able to be more open in discussing their symptoms.
At present, the ‘digital doctor’ is in its infancy. However, with apps such as Babylon healthcare being launched across mobile devices, which provides users with access to GPs, 12 hours a day, six days a week, it’s looking like the concept will soon grow in popularity.