Nationalised Healthcare in a Digital Era: “GP at Hand”

Scrolling through Instagram I came across an advert that seemed like something out of the future. It marketed an app called GP at Hand, which promised to deliver NHS services at the tap of your phone’s screen, with the option to have an online chat with a symptom checker powered by artificial intelligence or videocall a GP at a scheduled time from the comfort of home. The first thing I thought was how much of a game changer this app is, and how much this app is a testament to the state of the NHS now.

GP at Hand as of yet has two clinics which provide medical services both online and offline, both in the SW6 area. Its website claims to “provide acute and chronic disease management, sick notes, NHS prescriptions and specialist and hospital referrals.” Although it is not meant to be used as an A&E emergency centre it deals with quite common medical conditions such as colds/flus, stress, STIs, sports injuries, migraines and so on. In short, it gives patients the services of a GP without having to go to a surgery. Why does this matter? Currently, the average waiting time for a GP is around thirteen days and is only going to go up as things stand. Meanwhile, GP at Hand promises that you can usually be seen within 2 hours, with video call consultations between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Additionally, their interactive symptom checker (the Rolls Royce of WebMD, I imagine) means that you don’t even have to speak to a GP to ascertain your condition. If similar tech were implemented across the country it could cut down on days of waiting time.

The other reason I found this app notable was the fact that it occurred to me that using this service isn’t actually that dissimilar to using a GP in real life. NHS GPs give you about 10–15 minutes of appointment time, a number that is shrinking over the years. Crucially, it reminded me that in most cases GPs don’t even have to touch you, instead you describe your symptoms to them face to face for them to diagnose. Replacing a physical appointment with in effect a Skype call isn’t that much of a difference as things stand.

What this also got me thinking about was possible ways to simplify aspects of public services through technology, saving taxpayers time and money. Imagine complex bureaucracies transforming into efficient services with the help of AI. The possibilities are endless…

What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

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