video call with doctor healthcare nhs

New NHS app sets up video calls with a GP; concerns that elderly patients will be left out

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NHS patients will soon be able to launch video calls any time of the day with a GP via an app in order to diagnosis health issues.

The app, made by private healthcare firm Babylon Health, will be a free service for NHS patients and GP appointments will supposedly be offered “within minutes” via a smartphone.

Dubbed ‘GP at Hand’, the service will supposedly slash waiting times to see a GP from the current average of two weeks to just a matter of minutes.

Video consultations with NHS GPs can typically be arranged in under two hours, although an in-person appointment can also be booked if needed, depending on the issue.

The consultation is recorded and can be played back after the consultation. Users can also order prescriptions to the pharmacy of their choice through the app.

Babylon also says that “the world’s most advanced artificial intelligence” will be on hand in order to diagnose illnesses based on user-submitted symptoms.

However, the Royal College of GPs has criticised the new app, saying they are concerned that it will create a “twin-track” system where patients are “cherry-picked”, which will ultimately lead to greater strain on traditional GPs.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said: “Some patients will see this as a ‘golden ticket’ to get quick and easy access to a GP - and for younger, healthier commuters it could prove a solution to long waiting times for an appointment.

“Technology can achieve wonderful things when used properly, but we are really worried that schemes like this are creating a twin-track approach to NHS general practice and that patients are being ‘cherry-picked’, which could actually increase the pressures on traditional GPs based in the community.

“We understand that with increasingly long waiting times to see a GP, an online service is convenient and appealing, but older patients and those living with more complex needs want continuity of care and the security of their local practice where their GPs know them.”

Once a patient has successfully registered, the GP at Hand practice will have access to patients’ medical records, meaning GP at Hand doctors can quickly assess problems. 

It will also use facial recognition technology in order to ensure that the person speaking to the doctor is the person that they claim they are.

GP at Hand is being led by a group of London NHS GPs and launched today across Central London for around 3.5 million people. It is planned to roll out more broadly across the country in the near future.

The service has already been trialled in Fulham, where most patients gave it a four or five-star rating. 3,000 people signed up for the new service and over 10,000 more registered their interest to join as the service rolls out.

In September, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced an NHS app that will allow patients to seek health advice, book a GP appointment and read their medical records. 

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