Speaking at the Tory party conference at a fringe event on empowering patients through technology and the impact of Dr Google, Prof Helen Stokes Lampard apparently commented, ‘I feel we need to raise that particularly with patients… and we have to work with it and we have to be bold and that’s a challenge for all of us I think’. And primary care minister Steven Brine added, helpfully, ‘We must do technology better, we just have to.’
Which suggests that, while leaders may be grasping technology, they’re losing their grip on the English language. No matter, I put all the above gobbledegook into Google gobbledegooktranslate and what they’re trying to say, I think, is Dr Google is an arse-ache, but we have to live with it.
Well, I don’t agree. That Dr Google’s an arse-ache, that is. I think he/she/it is great. And here’s why.
It takes about five minutes at the GP coalface to realise that, most of the time, patients don’t want to know what’s wrong with them, they want to know what isn’t. That their chest pain isn’t a heart attack. Their pins and needles a stroke. Their headache a brain tumour. And so on.
Figuring out that their ill-defined, poorly described and often nonsensical symptom-dump doesn’t add up to any recognisable significant pathology is the easy bit. But getting them to fess up to what they’re convinced they’re dying of is much trickier and often involves lots of time consuming empathy, probing, reflection, open questioning, picking up on cues etc etc and, frankly, I’m looking to move onto the next patient, not get a distinction in the CSA.
Which is where Dr Google comes in: the online diagnosis shortcuts all of the above. Hence, my killer question as the clock ticks towards minute ten is now, ‘So what did Dr Google say?’ Followed, inevitably, by, ‘Really? Well, no, it’s definitely not an atrial myxoma, dengue fever or pseudopseduohypoparathyroidism. So you can relax. See, you’re feeling better already.’
All that remains is that niggling tendonitis of their dominant, mouse-clicking fingers. But that’s what happens when you grasp technology.
Dr Tony Copperfield is a jobbing GP in Essex