An app a day keeps the doctor away: Patients told to use mobile phones for a check-up instead of visiting their GP
Patients will be told to use mobile phones ‘apps’ to monitor their health at home rather than seeing a doctor or nurse.
Cancer sufferers, pregnant women and those with diabetes, lung problems and heart disease will be urged to take daily measurements and text them into a central computer system.
Their results will be analysed and within a few minutes they will be sent a reply advising them on what treatment to take.
Checking in: Patients will be urged to take daily measurements and text them into a central computer system
If any reading is abnormal patients will be urged to phone their doctor or nurse immediately.
The scheme is being rolled out by the Department of Health in the hope it will save the NHS millions of pounds through unnecessary visits to the surgery or hospital.
Ministers also believe that if patients are constantly keeping an eye on their condition they will be less likely to suddenly deteriorate and need to be urgently taken to A&E.
Backing: Health Secretary Andrew Lansley
But senior doctors and campaigners say it would be a ‘big mistake’ to force patients to use this technology.
They point out that certain groups such as the elderly would be far better off making an appointment than downloading an app.
Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee said: ‘Encouraging people to do something is a good idea but making people do it is a bad idea.
‘You can guarantee that elderly people will not be able to use it or anyone else who isn’t very good with technology. If used wrongly it’s a big mistake.’
‘But some people love this kind of thing it really motivates them. Self-care is very important.’
He also pointed out that GP surgeries could be ‘bombarded with information’ which could divert doctors and nurses from seeing sick patients.
‘If a hundred patients are texting in their readings every day it’s going to occupy a member of staff all day. Doctors and nurses may need to be doing something else.’
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients’ Association said: ‘These apps will help provide patients with more information and give them greater control over their own care.
‘But they will not be right for everyone, particularly elderly patients who may struggle with the technology. Other systems and sources of information must also be in place to help those patients who are not able to use the technology.’
'So many people use apps every day to keep
up with their friends, with the news, find out when the next bus will
turn up or which train to catch'
The Department of Health said that such apps already being used by 15,000 NHS patients including cancer sufferers, pregnant women and those with diabetes, heart problems or the lung condition Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
Over the next few months GPs and hospital doctors at other NHS trusts across the country will be urged to encourage patients to use such apps – and they will not be charged for sending or receiving the text messages.
Check-up: But will visits to the doctor become a thing of the past
In NHS trusts in Sunderland, for
example, pregnant women with high blood pressure are being told to use
apps to take regular their own readings rather than having a home visit
from a midwife.
And in other parts of England, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy are using apps to monitor their temperature.
If their temperature suddenly
increases it can be a sign that they are developing an infection – and
as their immune systems are low they are particularly susceptible.
apps also being used by patients with high blood pressure who struggle
to find time to see a GP such as long-distance lorry drivers and those
who care for relatives for dementia.
Phil O’Connell, an IT specialist working for the Department of Health who developed some of the apps insisted that they were not meant to ‘replace clinical judgment.’
He also pointed out that they were extremely cost effective as they helped cut down in appointments to the GP surgery and emergency visits to the hospital.
‘We find its reducing anxiety alerting community matrons and GPs when observations going off track.
‘It’s about early interventions and reducing hospital admissions.’
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: ‘So many people use apps every day to keep up with their friends, with the news, find out when the next bus will turn up or which train to catch.
‘I want to make using apps to track blood pressure, to find the nearest source of support when you need it and to get practical help in staying healthy the norm.”
‘Innovation and technology can revolutionise the health service, and we are looking at how the NHS can use these apps for the benefit of patients, including how GPs could offer them for free.’