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NHS pilots medical advice smartphone app

The app will be trialled in North London as an alternative to NHS 111

Ingrid Torjesen

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

A smartphone app which triages patients based on their reported symptoms is by trialled in north London, NHS England has announced.

The app, designed by Babylon Health, is based on complex clinical algorithms. Patients will type their symptoms into the app and asked to respond to additional questions about their condition to enable the app to recommend the care required. The app could advise on self-care, refer the patient to hospital, or recommend that they make an appointment with their GP the next day.

The app will be trialled for six months in Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Haringey and Islington. During the trial, patients in the area will be able to continue using the NHS 111 helpline.

In a statement, NHS England said: “The app will provide an alternative mechanism of accessing integrated urgent care and connecting patients to clinicians, and will aim to reduce pressure on the NHS during the busy winter period and beyond.”

“It will tell people where to go and who to see, as close to their home as possible, so they can make the right choices.”

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA GP committee chair, said: “The basic problem with NHS 111 is how it slavishly relies on algorithms and non-clinical staff without room for clinical interpretation in certain instances.

"Owing to the lack of input from a trained professional, this simplistic system could, like NHS 111, result in more people being sent to overstretched GP or A&E services who don’t actually need treatment or conversely serious conditions being missed. This proposal does not address this fundamental limitation. What we should instead be doing is investing in having properly trained and appropriate clinical staff handling calls and requests from patients, complementing the use of new technologies.”

He added that while it was always important to maximise the use of new technology to empower patients, it was also important to recognise that patients in greatest need, such as older people, may not be able or inclined to use technology or smartphones.

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