A harsh lesson from my check-up with an online GP
EARLIER this week, I was struck by an excruciating pain. After a similar attack two years ago, I recognised it as kidney stones. The next day, I was still in pain and, thinking it might be an infection, decided to see a doctor.
But instead of trying to see my own GP, I thought it would be quicker and easier to use a private online GP service — the sort where you pay a fee (typically, £25-£65) for a one-off appointment via an app on your mobile phone.
Although the GP I spoke to was perfectly nice, as the consultation was through my phone (effectively a ‘video’ consultation), she was unable to examine me or do tests. ‘I’ll just prescribe antibiotics anyway,’ she said with a shrug.
Research published that very day showed that global antibiotics use has increased, sparking fears of worldwide resistance — yet here was a doctor dishing them out despite no evidence they were needed. When I queried this, she suggested I drop a urine sample off to my NHS GP. ‘In what?’ I asked.
In the end, I called my NHS surgery and in under a minute I was speaking to a lovely GP called Dr Plag who listened to my story, agreed that taking antibiotics wasn’t right without knowing what was actually going on, and arranged for me to see her there and then.
I popped along, she did a urine test, blood test and a full examination. I didn’t have an infection. I was worried about how much of the GP’s time I’d taken up, but she reassured me this dedicated emergency service was set up specifically to deal with problems such as mine.
This was the NHS at its best — yet those high up in the health service seem obsessed that technology holds the key to solving its problems.
This week, there were protests at the launch of an online GP service that is effectively replacing face- to- face consultations with a GP in a standard practice. One concern is that patients will receive inferior care.
After my experience, I’m inclined to agree. I’m no Luddite, but it seems to me that while we’re always told that technology is the answer, sometimes in medicine there is no substitute for seeing patients in the flesh.