A harsh les­son from my check-up with an on­line GP

Daily Mail - - Confidential -

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.

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