Technology can be hugely beneficial - but we must not alienate vulnerable patients

Publication date: 11 September 2017

Responding to Health Secretary in England Jeremy Hunt's comments regarding online access to GP services over the weekend, ahead of his speech at NHS Expo this week, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said:

"General practice has always been ahead of the game in terms of using technology in order to deliver the best possible patient care – we were the first sector of the health service to implement both electronic patient records, and electronic prescribing. We are also now at a stage where more than 97% GP practices can offer online services, such as the ability to book appointments, or access their medical records.

"Technology can be hugely beneficial for healthcare professionals and patients when used effectively – but new technological initiatives don't suit all patients, and we must be cautious not to alienate vulnerable patients who are perhaps elderly, poor or simply not as tech-savvy.

"We also need to dispel the myth that just because we are using technology to do something, we are also saving resources. To take NHS 111 as an example; we question whether an app, no matter how complex or 'intelligent' the algorithm it uses, is qualified to decide how urgent a patient's health complaint is – so this service will still need to be staffed appropriately and evaluated carefully to ensure that the NHS is getting a quality service that represents real value for money.

"We do welcome the move by Secretary of State to introduce the same rigorous inspection process to independent 'digital doctors' that might offer medical services online or via an app, that is applied to NHS GPs and hospitals. The College has long raised patient safety concerns around services that offer GP virtual consultations for a fee, without necessarily having access to the patient's full medical – and medication – history.

"Technology can be wonderful , but it is essential that any new innovation or scheme is piloted and rigorously evaluated in terms of its benefit to patient care and the wider NHS, before it is rolled out widely.”

Further Information

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7574/7575/7633/7410
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.

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