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Wealthy tech companies creating ‘digital divide’ in health

Frontline GPs aren’t tech dinosaurs – they just can’t afford sky-high costs of new technology

Louise Prime

Thursday, 04 October 2018

Wealthy tech companies are creating a digital divide in health as they use “bully boy tactics” against anyone challenging their methods of siphoning off younger and fitter patients at the expense of those in greatest need, the Royal College of GPs has warned. And College chair professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, a practising Midlands GP, told delegates at its annual conference in Glasgow this morning that far from being “technophobic dinosaurs” as they are so often labelled, GPs are champions of safe technology – but many simply can’t afford the huge investment required.

Professor Stokes-Lampard warned that health inequalities for patients could, potentially, be exacerbated by the ways in which some privately funded initiatives are being implemented. She said: “Those with the latest smart phone, those who speak English and live in cities, those who have high-speed broadband, are being offered something that others are not.”

Yet she argued that if the future NHS uses technology well, it could actually reduce health inequalities, and ameliorate some of the adverse social determinants of health – but this will require huge investment in GP technology so that GPs can offer everyone safe, effective high-quality care.

The College recently discovered, from a poll of 1,216 GPs, that technology costs are cited by almost a quarter of those who believe that running their practice in the long-term is unsustainable, double the figure just 18 months ago; it said “the sky-high costs of trying to keep up with private companies is impossible”.

Professor Stokes-Lampard said: “GPs on the frontline just can’t afford the investment in technology, most of us aren’t being propped up by wealthy venture capitalists, after all.

“We need technology that works for patients, makes our lives easier and is not lining the pockets of private investors at the expense of the NHS.”

She rebutted the charge that general practice is failing to move with the times, and said that where the profession might sometimes be using outdated methods, this was because of the lack of resources to update existing technology or implement new technology. She said: “I get really exasperated when I hear accusations that GPs are technophobic dinosaurs. What utter nonsense.

“GPs are not ‘afraid’ of technology or innovation. But robots don’t come cheap, tech costs money, and for GP practices that are already on the brink, implementing new, good technology is unfeasible.”

She reminded the 2,000 delegates of the College’s concerns about the “GP at Hand” NHS service and in particular how it targets new patients, pointing out that although its technology was “impressive”, the service threatens the financial principle of NHS general practice through which funding for fit and well people helps to pay for care of the sick and needy.

She urged all four governments of the UK to invest in medical technology to support GPs, which in England’s case, she said, could be funded through the long-term plan for the NHS published earlier this year.

She concluded: “I call upon our political leaders to give us the tools we need. Give us the chance to tame the ‘tech tsunami’ in a way that doesn’t put existing services at risk, in a way that benefits all our patients, and makes our working lives easier. Give us the extra investment we all need and bring our share of the NHS budget back to 11% right across the UK.”

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