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GP practices should expect surge in tech hypochondriacs, warns leading surgeon

GP practices and A&E departments will ‘undoubtedly see’ a growing number of patients concerned over what health data means for them, a leading surgeon has predicted. 
 
Richard Kerr, chair of the Royal College of Surgeons’ Commission on the Future of Surgery, has warned that the increased availability of new technologies such as wearable health devices and sensor will leave more patients alarmed over the data collected.
 
Speaking ahead of the commission’s final report – to be published in the Autumn – Mr Kerr said that technology could cause unnecessary alarm about their wellbeing among people who are in fact in good health.
 
He highlighted the growing abundance of health-related information patients can now access through everything from wearable health tech to personalised data made available through DNA testing and advances in areas such as genomics.
 
All this information may, Mr Kerr said, cause some patients to feel 'confused and scared,' fearing for their health even when there is no reason to do so, a development that could see them flock to GP practices and A&E departments in inreasing numbers. 
 
Mr Kerr added that the NHS should think about what is needed to support these patients.
 
He said: ‘The “worried well” will be sent into hyperdrive. GP practices and A&Es will undoubtedly see more patients who are concerned about what this information means for them.’
 
Health professionals should therefore be ready ‘to help patients navigate this proliferation of information and provide tailored support so they can understand their risk of illness’, he added.
 
His fears come after health and social care secretary Matt Hancock delivered a speech at the NHS Expo in Manchester to explain his vision for a more tech-driven NHS, with the new NHS app allowing patients to access their medical records to be available to all by the end of the year.
 
Mr Hancock also said last week that he would want to see GP at Hand, the app allowing video consultations with NHS GPs, to reach every patient in the country.
 
Another side effect of the proliferation of new technologies is the risk of misdiagnosis, according to Mr Kerr.
 
He said: ‘There is unfortunately the danger that the unscrupulous of our profession could prey on the fears of patients, convincing them that treatment is necessary, where it is not.
 
‘Medical professionals will need to be vigilant to the risk of misdiagnosis and overtreatment that this proliferation of personalised health information could bring.’

A version of this article was first published by Pulse's sister title Management in Practice

Readers' comments (8)

  • Totally right - over-diagnosis & anxiety epidemic is sure to happen.

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  • It’s bad enough having Noctors saying ‘ I’m not sure what it is- you’d better see a GP —-TODAY!!

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  • Vinci Ho

    Well said
    Typical argument of liberty actually taking equality for granted .
    I think we are all a fed up of ‘moaning’ ( at least in the eyes of some) about GP smartphone apps and expansion of AI in medicine. Use it correctly and appropriately, technology facilities diagnosis and management of our patients. But this also reinforce the principle that medicine is an art NOT a science. A tool is a tool and it remains as a tool.
    It is despicable and shaneless that some grabbing hands are exploiting the loophole opportunities created by the discrepancy and incompetence of the government and its technocrats. They use ‘technology’ as a brand , commercial label to undermine the fundamental principle of medical care of looking after those in needs and disadvantaged. My verdict is only one word , Immoral.
    ‘There is unfortunately the danger that the unscrupulous of our profession could prey on the fears of patients, convincing them that treatment is necessary, where it is not.’
    Thank Mr Kerr , this makes my day .

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  • All apps should come-with a highlighted PIL (pt info leaflet)
    THIS APP IS SERIOUSLY LIKELY TO DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH

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  • David Banner

    I’m ‘appy to navigate the worried well.....to the door marked exit.

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  • Agree. These consults are always difficult with the patients believing in their phone more than the doctor and usually leave feeling short changed and better post a bad review on trip adviser.

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  • I await the guidelines based on ICD 11 for diagnosing and managing tech hypochondriasis, and look forward to NICE issuing guidelines that I must review these patients every 4 weeks.

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  • Tantalus

    Errr.....this has already happened

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