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I’m a big fan of humans

Caffeine and contemplation

Dominique Thompson

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

AdobeStock_145639176_ilhb.jpgIn June I read that Samsung phones will in future come with the Babylon GP app pre-installed. It led me to reflect on the potential for progress of technology in general practice. Many people are clearly worried about the Babylon GP service, which I can understand from the point of view of drawing a young demographic away from practices, but I also believe that video consultations could in fact be used to repair fragmentation of care in certain circumstances, if engaged with safely and securely.

At this point I must declare that I have, despite being a tech numpty, co-developed a couple of apps which provide evidence-based health information and self-care for young people, on the topics of student health and self-harm. I also think that technology solutions may have a lot to offer general practice in the future.  

So, despite being un-techy, I am keen to consider whether video consultations could in fact be used by GPs’ registered patients, with all the appropriate security of course, to enable consultations when patients are in the UK but away from their GP and out of area, e.g. working away, on a university or industry placement, or home for university holidays? This would allow them to continue care with their registered GP, by having a booked video consultation, and would avoid the need for them to temporarily register with other GPs/ go to walk in centres or A&E.

It would potentially be an improvement on telephone consultations, allowing for the patient’s facial expressions and emotions to be observed by the GP and vice versa, and would be safe for routine follow ups, for example of anxiety and depression, though not of course when physical examination was required. For this, a ‘human’ consultation would be necessary, and I’m a big fan of humans, so I am not suggesting that technology will replace us, but it could complement what we offer, and facilitate continuity of care for mobile patients. I believe that video will replace phone consultations in the near future, though it won’t necessarily save time compared with a face to face appointment.

Traditional general practice care is not a thing of the past, and the professional support of one human for another cannot, in my opinion, be replaced by technology, but it could be enhanced and we should not be afraid to explore how to harness new tech developments to improve what we offer.

Psychological services are already using this video consultation approach to provide therapy, and there is an opportunity for us to see how a similar approach might work for primary care. I have always found endless telephone consultations fairly soul-destroying, as I like to see people’s faces and share eye contact or read emotions, so this would be a definite improvement on the ‘Whitney Houston headset’ approach, whilst remaining quick and convenient for us and our patients.

I am excited to see how video consultations might support and improve general practice, whilst maintaining the wonderful human to human relationship at its core.

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Dominique Thompson

Dominique has been a student health GP since 2000, developing innovative new services to treat eating disorders and personality disorder in primary care. She was the GP member of the NICE Eating Disorders Committee 2017. She was a Pulse ‘GP hero’, in 2014, and a ‘Rising Star’ in 2016. Dominique writes about young adult wellbeing and mental health, in both the medical and non-medical press. Her latest adventure is as an independent consultant in student health and wellbeing www.buzzconsulting.co.uk. She is fuelled by caffeinated drinks.
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