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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, 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)

  • In 20 years time there won't be any GPs to MAKE a diagnosis.

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  • Wouldn't it be nice to make Health Secretaries obsolete too?

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  • Pretty sure he is on wrong dose of SSRI.
    This article was the final straw. M never coming back to NHS.

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  • according to 1960s sci-if , we should all by now be doing weekend trips to the planet Zog and living on space dust.

    can't someone teleport this twit to another planet so he can preach to someone else?

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  • And of course silicon valley got things so right back in the dotcom bubble, and they are all health experts, who understand false positives and diagnostic uncertainty. Oh dear.

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  • I think he is largely right about diagnosis but explanation, caring and complex personalised management will still be required. Think Star Trek style medicine.

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  • Technology may be able to diagnose/show biological marker but who the ---- is going to interpret it?. Let another 100 years go and doctors will be still and treating patient. AND most importantly can this country afford it. Yes USA will afford it because of amount of money it spends on Health care. The people in this country are used to having everything free and not used to pay for anything. One simple thing he doesnot understand is technical advances will simply make medicine more expensive.

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  • How long can he get away with spouting this sort of nonsense and still hold office!?!?

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  • Mr Hunt has long championed wider adoption of technology in the NHS

    Like homeopathy!

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  • I'm not going to disagree this MIGHT happen.

    But seriously, should this come from a health secretary? It's equivalent to MOD saying they don't need ground units in 20 years time as androids would have replaced them.

    There is a difference between future planning and fantasy speculation. Latter is fine for a talk in the pub with mates, not very fine for talk as public fgure such as conservative conference.

    He's bonkers!

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