The GP Appointment of Tomorrow

Communication technology, augmented and virtual reality, point-of-care testing devices, and AI are changing the world with each new breakthrough. These breakthroughs create innovative ways for industries to evolve the way in which they operate. The healthcare sector is no exception. How GPs can communicate with patients, gather patient data and the things they can do with that data suggest that the GP appointment you know today may soon become a thing of the past. The GP appointment of tomorrow could potentially revolutionise how patients receive care and change the process as we know it entirely.

Communication technology is a major driving force in the evolution of GP appointments as we know it. As we all know, the way we communicate has vastly changed in the past 20 years and evidence shows that this will not slow down anytime soon. Despite these changes, most GP appointments were still face to face consultations, but the lockdown and the threat of COVID-19 has triggered a shift in the number of telephone and online consultations. In February 2020, one month before the first major lockdown in the UK, there were 19 million face-to-face appointments made and 3 million telephone appointments. However, in March 2020 those figures changed to 16 million face-to-face appointments and 7 million phone appointments, and the numbers have stayed at between 9 to 11 million phone appointments per month since then. However in saying this, there has not been a decrease in the number of face-to-face appointments, but this shows a willingness to change and try new methods of consultation from both patients and doctors.

Since the first lockdown, there has been a boom in the development of third-party technology providers that offer online access to doctors. According to Vitality, health insurance providers can expect to see a rise in demand for remote care services through apps. There are already apps that help patients find doctors and specialists, for example, Ascenti helps users find physiotherapists and My Online Therapy that finds mental health specialists. Dr Anushka Patchava, Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Vitality Insurance offers her insight into this change: “With the COVID-19 pandemic adding further pressure to healthcare systems, virtual healthcare provides an opportunity to improve access to healthcare professionals, minimising the spread of infection, whilst delivering timely care. We expect the adoption of digital technologies within healthcare to continue.”

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are used for many different things. From entertainment to communications, the use of AR and VR is considered the cutting edge of technology. It should come as no surprise that a lot of research is being done to integrate AR and VR tools into the healthcare sector for several innovative uses.

AR and VR make very effective hands-on learning tools especially for doctors studying anatomy, practising surgery, learning new procedures, and identifying physical symptoms. This would also allow healthcare workers to perform complex procedures without needing to worry about making mistakes.

Robotic surgery is also an extension of VR technology as the robots are controlled by the movements of a doctor. This type of surgery is needed for several reasons, for example, to perform intricate, high precision operations.

VR can be used as a physical therapy tool in many different ways. Research is being done to find a way of providing guidance to physiotherapy patients via a virtual physiotherapist in their own homes to demonstrate prescribed exercises.

Patients suffering from PTSD can enter recreated VR environments that can help them overcome past traumas or even create a virtual calm place they can go to ease their anxiety. This can also be applied to overcoming phobias, aiding patients with depression and can even be useful for rehab patients too.

AR maps can be used to help patients find the nearest medical centre, learn how to take, or administer medication and treatment with instructional videos, learn procedures (like CPR) during emergencies and can even be used to communicate with their doctors.

Finally, and most importantly, AR and VR have unlimited potential in creating personalised healthcare treatments for individual patients. The scope of these technologies can be used for anything from communication, procedures, recovery, education, diagnosis and so much more.

The development of point-of-care testing (POCT) is something that will shape the future of GP appointments and how patients can be diagnosed. POCT is defined as medical testing done at or near the point of care. During the lockdown, the point of care for most patients was their own home due to the restrictions on movement enforced by the lockdown.

A major advantage to POCT is its ability to produce fast and accurate results for patients without the need for a laboratory. This ability to produce immediate results can produce a higher quality of patient care by allowing healthcare workers to make decisions quickly. It is a way of improving practice workflow. POCT is a more convenient way of running tests than traditional laboratory testing methods which has been shown to positively influence patient satisfaction. This, coupled with the easy-to-use nature of POCT equipment, has shown an improvement in patient compliance with frequent testing, especially in monitoring patients with cardiovascular diseases. The development of POCT technology can lead to equipment that can run more in-depth tests on patients and increase the accuracy and detail of patient data that can be collected without the need of a lab. In this way, POCT may be able to revolutionise the way GPs can diagnose and administer treatments to patients.

Digital data collection, personalised patient care and utilising real-world data are all contributing to the rapid development of a new and improved healthcare landscape. The development of AI technology and data science are finding new innovative ways for us to store, analyse and access data. Creating a central data system that not only stores patient data from GPs and patient records, but also stores data gathered by POCT devices and wearable devices like smartwatches, could revolutionise how patients are treated. If every GP had immediate access to in-depth information about any patient’s conditions, medical records, and other essential details, it would be easier than ever for people to get thorough medical care.

The increase of digital density and ‘Big Data’ collection can help create predictive algorithms via machine learning systems which can open new paths to smart, more effective means of treating patients. AI technology is getting smarter which might be able to provide personalised solutions for patients based on their past data and previous medical history. This could make the decision-making process for healthcare professionals far easier and provide insights to doctors and carers that previously would require a lot of time with the patients beforehand. In this way, patients could receive more thorough care at a fraction of the time it may have taken in the past.

Ash Higgs, MD MCG Healthcare

About the author
Ash Higgs Managing Director

Ash Higgs is the Managing Director of MCG Healthcare. He has a long-demonstrated history working in recruitment and has now been involved in the medical industry for over 5 years. During this time, he has gained a strong understanding of the issues that both Primary & Secondary Care are facing regarding the recruitment of healthcare professionals.

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