Advances in technology have fuelled the ‘On Demand’ generation. App controlled services now at our fingertips include on demand TV (Netflix), on demand food (Deliveroo), on demand transport (Uber) and, more surprisingly perhaps, on demand doctors and medicine.
In 2014, the then Prime Minister, David Cameron argued every patient should be able to get a GP appointment in their local area between 8am and 8pm, seven days a week, later making it a manifesto pledge. It represented a political push to create a truly 24/7 NHS.
Regardless of whether or not it is possible to fund an NHS that can maintain similar service levels as they already do, but now across a seven-day week, the political debate does serve to highlight a need and a desire for on demand support for our health needs. After all, we cannot choose when we fall ill and it is appealing to have an option that hands over greater control over our own health to us – the patient.
The apps championing the pop-up doctor belonged initially to insurance companies such as Vitality GP, with the clear benefit of the insurer gaining as much data and insight on the insured as possible. Private companies have also developed apps such as Push Doctor where they deal directly with the consumer/patient and also connect the user to other services such as Boots pharmacies so prescriptions can be collected when ready, at the nearest location of convenience to the patient.
Now, the NHS has followed insurers and private companies with their own app library as well as supporting the services of others. LIVI is one of the apps available for free through the NHS and gives patients access to GMC-registered NHS GPs via their phone or tablets, should they belong to one of LIVI’s partner GP practices. Other apps involving the NHS such as the NHS App, Babylon Health, NHS Online: 111 and myGP provide an array of different services from pop-up doctors to ordering prescriptions, from checking symptoms to getting immediate medical advice.
A concern with such advancements is that GP workloads will increase unsustainably due to the relentless nature of these services and so it is important that any on demand solutions are able to effectively ‘triage’ a patient’s needs and give them easy to access advice as a starting point where possible. By arming patients with knowledge and immediacy, the hope is this will free up appointments for those patients in urgent need and the patients themselves will be experts in their own care.
The peace of mind, practical convenience and educational benefits such services can bring to a 24/7 culture will hopefully result in high standards of care. There is currently a wide array of different services offering similar things, but as successes are seen and best practices are solidified and effectively met, we will likely see a more resolute, enduring pop up doctor take shape.