The Rise of Online Medical Services: GP Apps

Could GP apps help revolutionise the UK’s healthcare system?

Nowadays almost any service can be accessed online. From food deliveries to banking, we are becoming increasingly reliant on internet based services. It is not difficult to see why. Using online services is convenient; you can purchase goods and services in your own home at the touch of a button. The same is true for online medical services.

Online GPs

Online GPs are becoming commonplace in the UK, with doctor’s app Babylon GP Help at Hand announced as the UK’s fifth largest GP practice in England this year.

The benefits of these services are clear. If one is busy, or their bricks and mortar GP is booked up, services such as as Help at Hand are convenient and quick options, with GP appointments available via video or phone conversations for twenty four hours, seven days a week. No time needs to be spent in a waiting room, or travelling to and from the doctor’s office at possibly inconvenient time, making such services appealing to consumers.

Some such services, like the LIVI app, launched in the UK in October 2018, collaborate with the existing healthcare system. In August 2019 LIVI announced its partnership with the NHS and its plans to expand to two million patients in Birmingham, Shropshire and Northampton among other areas. A case has been made that such services could help reduce the strain on NHS GPs, who are currently experiencing a shortage in the workforce.


Are There Any Disadvantages of Using Online GPS?

However, there are perhaps some negative aspects of using online GPs. For example, it has been highlighted that going to a bricks and mortar GP allows for a more thorough examination of the patient. Routine aspects of diagnosis, such as blood and urine tests or measuring heart rate and blood pressure are impossible when using a GP app.

Even a proper visual examination is made much more difficult by the absence of an in-person GP. This makes prescriptions from online GPs perhaps less trustworthy. One doctor, Max Pemberton published an article in the Spectator in July 2019 detailing how he was wrongly diagnosed twice by the Help at Hand app, whilst also being given medicine that was in one case unnecessary, and in the second, directly exacerbatory to his condition. Thus, online GP practices may not be the most accurate or trustworthy sources of medical help.

Many have also criticised the potentially detrimental effects these apps and services could have on existing GP practices. Babylon, for example, has consistently denied claims that it has ‘cherry picked’ young, physically healthy patients, who are its most common users, tempting people away from traditional GP practices. Cambridge Professor Roland Martin, has pointed out that this decreases the amount of money NHS GP practices gain, as the amount is based on the number of registered patients. This leaves surgeries fewer funds to support the most vulnerable and ill people.

Online medical services therefore provide convenience for the user, and more work for doctors. However, in terms of the health of users and those around them, this is perhaps less accurate and socially responsible than attending