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Concerns that health tech could see rise in hypochondriacs using NHS services

Image credit: reuters

New technologies such as wearable health devices and sensors, advances in genomics, and DNA testing, alongside a proliferation of personalised health information, could send the “worried well” into “hyperdrive”, according to the chair of the Royal College of Surgeons Commission on the Future of Surgery.

Richard Kerr said there will soon be “an immense amount” of health information available to patients and GPs and A&Es will “undoubtedly” see more patients who might be “confused and scared” about what the health information means for them.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has previously said the NHS offers “the world’s biggest opportunity” for saving lives through technology and vowed to drive change. 

“The ‘worried well’ will be sent into hyperdrive,” Kerr said. “Better early diagnosis is good news for patients. Prevention, or early intervention, is always better than cure.

“That said, the NHS will need to be ready to handle an influx of patients with potentially valid concerns about their risk of falling ill in the future.”

He added: “As health professionals, we will need to help patients navigate this proliferation of information and provide tailored support so they can understand their risk of illness, as well as their treatment options, should their concerns lead to diagnosis.”

Kerr said that genetic testing may also lead surgeons to carry out more preventative surgery, including among those predisposed to certain cancers.

However, he warned that there is a risk that some patients will be offered treatments they do not need as a result of the rise in information.

Kerr said: “Medical professionals will also need to be vigilant to the risk of misdiagnosis and overtreatment that this proliferation of personalised health information could bring.

“There is unfortunately the danger that the unscrupulous of our profession could prey on the fears of patients, convincing them that treatment is necessary, where it is not.”

The Commission on the Future of Surgery aims to set out a vision for future advances in medicine and technology, as well as how those developments will affect the delivery of surgical care.

Experts on the Commission panel have sought to understand developments in minimally invasive surgery, robot-assisted surgery, nanotechnology, radiology and imaging, artificial intelligence, genetics, oncology, 3D printing and planning, regenerative medicine, pharmacology, and anaesthesia.

Yesterday, Apple launched the latest version of the Apple Watch, which is one of the first mainstream devices available to consumers that can carry out ECG tests and detect a number of heart conditions, such as a low heart rate or arrhythmic beating. 

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