This site is intended for health professionals only


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.