Online consultation can save time, money and allow for more efficient interaction with specialists

Online consultation can save time, money and allow for more efficient interaction with specialists

On our 21st birthday, our team at HealthCare21 covered the significant advancements within the healthcare sector that occurred over the past 21 years. We will now be posting 21 developments that will be shaping the future of medical communications and healthcare delivery.

15.GP at Hand, a smartphone app that uses powerful artificial intelligence (AI) introduced on a pilot basis in November, is mining health data to make online diagnoses and has dramatically reduced the time patients in London wait for a consultation with a general practitioner (GP). Babylon Health, the company that developed the app, says it means better access to GPs, improving health outcomes and reducing pressure on emergency services. The average waiting time for a virtual GP appointment is just over 2 hours for patients using its service GP at Hand, compared to a national UK average of approximately 2 weeks. The Babylon app collects details of a patient’s symptoms, which it then compares with millions of data points from other patients and research papers, to make a diagnosis and offer treatment advice. Babylon claim that the AI is good enough to manage 80 per cent of primary care diseases as well as a doctor would. With the speed and accuracy of AI improving exponentially, the technology will soon take over even more tasks, particularly in predicting and diagnosing illness, and identifying the best treatment option.

Patients can interact with an on-screen diagram of the human body to show where they feel pain, rate the severity of symptoms and explain how long they have felt this way. Using this and the patient’s medical history, the app then suggests anything from an urgent hospital visit to resting at home. The system can connect patients to a doctor by video if they want to speak to a human expert. Consultations are shorter than a typical visit to the clinic as the doctor can access the information patients have given the app in advance of talking to them. Where a prescription is needed, this is sent electronically. Medicines can be delivered or collected at a nearby pharmacy.

Online consulting has shown strong results. Back in 2010, the Mayo Clinic in the US found that online consultations could reduce the need for face-to-face appointments with GPs by 40%. Many countries now offer smart phone app-based consulting including Push Doctor in the UK, Teladoc in the US, Practo in India and MyPocket Doctor in the Philippines. The UK’s NHS is supporting online consultations and encouraging all GPs to get involved. Online consultations also allow more efficient and frequent interaction with specialists and the advice received is available for sharing with the local GP. This completes the circle of care and means patients can access the best care wherever they live.