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A faulty production line

GPs’ diagnostic skills could be obsolete within 20 years, says Hunt

The health secretary has claimed that GPs in 20 years’ time will not have to make diagnoses due to increasingly powerful diagnostic tools, and the NHS must position itself to be ready for the technology when it becomes available. 

Speaking at a fringe session at the Conservative party conference on Monday, Mr Hunt informed delegates that Silicon Valley tech ‘gurus’ were confident diagnosis by humans would be obsolete within two decades.

He also said that this would open up an exciting new prospect for medicine where problems can be identified and tackled before they even become symptomatic, although he did concede there was a lot of work to do to make this a realty.

Mr Hunt has long championed wider adoption of technology in the NHS, and at the same session he reminded delegates of his pledge to make the NHS paperless by 2018 – conceding that despite best efforts there may be ‘one or two bits of paper floating around’ by the deadline.

The health secretary was responding to a question on how the NHS can win the public’s trust for record-sharing initiatives, in the wake of the botched rollout of the GP record-sharing scheme care.data, which has been delayed since early 2013.

Mr Hunt said that the Government still had to win the trust of the public, but added that technological developments were ‘exciting’. 

He told delegates: ‘If you talk to technology gurus in California and ask what’s going to change in the next two decades, they say “in 20 years’ time, no doctor will ever give a diagnosis”.

‘They say “You can get 300,000 biomarkers from a single drop of blood, so why would you depend on a human brain to calculate what that means when a computer can do it for you?”.

‘I think it’s really important that we’re ready in the NHS to harness the power of data to give us more accurate diagnoses, in particular with that example.’

He added: ‘What’s happened in medicine for the last two millenia is that you wait until you have a symptom and then a doctor tries to interpret the symptom.

’What this will mean, is we can identify problems before they’re symptomatic and therefore have a much better chance of tackling them. So it’s a pretty exciting prospect but there’s lots of work to do.’

NHS England recently produced an animation outlining its digital vision for the NHS, including health apps that upload information directly to the GP record and telehealth consultations.

Readers' comments (111)

  • Fiona Dalziel

    Also, by then I will be zooming around in the little Jetsons aerocar I have been eagerly anticipating since the 1960s. What a lack of insight.

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  • Relax, guys. All he is doing is lining himself up for a lucrative consultancy to silicon valley health tech companies when he finishes as health secretary.
    Which will hopefully be sooner rather than later.

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  • If only the biomarkers did diagnose everything!! About half our patients have illnesses that can't be diagnosed with blood samples - depression, ME, CFS, anger issues, addiction; and I haven't even begun to talk about treatment yet!!!

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  • My Dear Mr Hunt you will find self centeric politicians will be obsolete before GP`s.

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  • I think Mr. Hunt has a vision of an 'ATM' where you insert an index finger, the said machine takes a blood sample and wow! Hey presto! A print out of your present and future conditions! Should never eat cheese before going to bed. Gives you bad dreams.

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  • Alan Shortt

    Well yes good appropriately used technology will of course improve outcomes for patients and healthcare providers both and I like the balanced comments of Lorna Gold, the NZ doctor and especially the poster who referenced FindZebra

    But this particular vision is deffo misguided - blood-borne biomarkers do not in isolation make diagnoses they are more likely to create more "noise"

    Some things stand the test of time until replaced (or indeed enhanced) by something better.

    Skilled history taking and examination is something doctors and other clinicians can still do well (by skilled I don't necessarily mean difficult - we all learnt that stuff we just need to remember apply and reclaim that) and save lives, prevent and reduce morbidity and like save money.

    imho I think doctors should reexamine and reclaim what it means to be a professional Dr (yes using decision support aids etc)
    That's in the domain of "real" physical disease never mind the psychosocial undifferentiated areas that good doctors should also be skilled in

    wrt to current biomarkers I for one think for for example prostate screening satisfies Wilsons Criteria despite ongoing outdated arguments against that

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  • A) what the **** does he know about it
    And
    B) that is exactly what you are training GPs to do - to diagnose and deal with the vast majority of mental and physical illness for very little intervention, money and reinforcement of the sick mentality... Ever since Thatcher said that patients had a right to get their bunions seen to at 3 am on a Saturday night the concept and function of GP has gone down the pan ...
    AND DONT get me talking about GPs being replaced by over confident under intellectualised Nursey Doctors ... If a nurse wants to be a doctor then they should get 4 A* A levels - not do it the back way - Elizabeth Garrett Anderson had to qualify through the back door - but that was 1864.

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  • He is just a cunning and calculating politician who is knocking his opponents (ie us). He has been doing this for a while now to soften them up and demean them in the eyes of as many people he can.

    He states there have been doctors/healers for the last two millenia. They have changed the way they have practiced hugely during this time, and no doubt the way we practice will change hugely over the next two millenia. But despite these changes we are still here.

    One wise charasmatic Professor at my old medical school, Dr Abe Guz (it was over 30 years ago) told us on our first day, half of what you learn will be true and half will not be. The only problem is we do not know which half is which?

    The need for doctors will not end just because the technology has become more fancy. We will always be needed to make sense of the situation and know which half of the medical knowledge we are taught to believe and which half makes no sense. We all know that medicine is an art as well as a science.

    Can you really believe he will turn to his computer rather than go to his doctor if he or one of his family become ill???

    Perhaps he better pick his GP carefully in the future as I can imagine many would love him to be their patient!

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  • What he is saying demonstrates his aim. Kill off General practice and then the hospital, starting now.Raise the bar to unrealistic levels, increase workload and bureacracy, increase quangos to blame everyone but him and cut funding. The biggest patient safety and CQC risk is what he is doing.

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  • Drachula

    That man does not get medicine. No wonder he doesn't want to pay us anything as he thinks we are pointless. What an idiot!!!
    This man just gets "better"

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