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The end of the GP waiting room? The basics of the NHS-Babylon collaboration

By Sam Coldicutt, Account Executive

This month sees the rollout of a trial service by the NHS: GP at hand. The service — formed in collaboration with digital health start-up Babylon — seeks to connect patients to doctors using video calls on smart phones, turning the traditional waiting room and appointment set up on its head. Covering those in central London, the service claims that video appointments are available in a matter of hours, not days (as is currently the case in some capacity strained areas of the country). The premise is certainly an exciting one, but is this project a flash in the pan, or the start of a huge shift in the way we and the NHS interact?

What is it and how does it work?

Babylon is part of a new wave of health start-ups looking to bridge the gap between health providers and the cutting edge tech now at our disposal. PushDoctor, Doctor on Demand and Dr Now are all in this bracket, yet Babylon is the first to receive an official partnership with the NHS, the significance of which should not be understated. But how does GP at hand work? Patients download the app, provide some short information about their symptoms, and are then granted a video call appointment with a nurse or doctor. From this point, the doctor can discuss and consult with the patient before providing an opinion and granting a prescription if required, all within a few hours. When mapped out like this, it is not hard to see the benefits of such a system. In our instant age of Uber-style disruption, health and wellness has thus far been stubbornly set in its ways, wary to innovate; projects like GP at hand show that this could be about to change.

The solution to the GP strain?

On paper, the service looks a game changer for the way we interact with our doctors. However, it is not without its critics. Opponents to the idea, such as the chair of the Royal College of GPs Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, claim it encourages a ‘two tier system’ where patients are ‘cherry picked’ which could actually ‘increase the pressures on traditional GPs based in the community’. Younger, fitter individuals may well reap huge benefits from a quick system like this, however the older community, who might struggle with digital competence, and suffer from more long term illnesses, may see little benefit from the service in its current form. For the fit and active, easy fixes for minor ailments can be provided — for those with more serious conditions, it is not as simple.

These criticisms are valid, and show that in its current form, the system does not address all of the issues of the GP crisis. However, in a densely populated urban area like London, with its young demographic, GP at hand seems a very good fit to provide some much needed relief on practices.

In short, GP at hand is an exciting development for the NHS, which is traditionally slow on such innovations. Whilst it is true that certain demographics will benefit more than others, for certain areas like London, the logic makes sense. The trial of GP at hand suggests that NHS bosses are now aware that strained resources in our health service mean that digital innovation is no longer just an option, but a necessity.

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