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GPs to consult patients using new Government NHS app from 2019

The new NHS app could support GP video consultations from next year, according to NHS Digital.

A freedom of information request from technology magazine Gizmodo to NHS Digital, revealed that an update to the app in 2019 could enable GPs to hold video consultations with their patients.

However, the information also revealed that only patients at certain practices will be able to use all the features of the app when it first launches to the public in December.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt first announced the app last year and it is expected to be piloted across 10 practices, covering 2,000 patients, from next month.

The initial version of the app will enable patients to book appointments, check their symptoms, order repeat prescriptions, access 111 online for urgent medical queries, and state their preferences for organ donation and data sharing.

However, a later update to the app will allow patients to connect their Apple Watch or FitBit to the app as well as consult with their GP over video.

According to the documents, video consultations and connectivity to other devices are a ‘priority’ for the app in 2019.

This comes after health secretary Matt Hancock said a Babylon-style GP at Hand model, which promises a face-to-face video consultations within hours, should become ‘available to all’ patients.

Beyond 2019, the information suggests the app will link up with the e-referral service to allow patients to book hospital or clinic appointments.

BMA GP Committee prescribing lead Dr Andrew Green said: ‘All of our lives have been revolutionised by digital processes over recent years, and it would be naïve to imagine general practice would be unaffected.

‘The challenge will be to ensure that new ways to access GP care do not compromise safety, do not prioritise the needs of the well over those of the sick, and do not increase demand in non-commercial systems where increased footfall consumes resources rather than generates income.’

Recent research has revealed that there is limited evidence that GP video consultations are safe, effective or improve patient access to primary care.

NHS Digital said it plans to pilot the app, with the initial features, at the end of next month with around 2,000 patients from ten GP practices.

The app will then be launched to the wider public from December this year.

However, NHS Digital confirmed that only patients at practices using the EMIS IT system will have full access to the app from the day it launches as EMIS is currently the only system that is fully compatible with the app.

As of 2016, 56% of practices were using EMIS, while 36% were using SystmOne (also known as TPP).

This comes as NHS Digital has launched the procurement process for a new GP IT system, which is to be implemented next summer.

The Department of Health and Social Care declined to comment.