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An old-school virus

‘This letter may have been created using voice recognition software, please excuse any errors.’

This was written at the bottom of a hospital letter I received this week, and could not better summarise my issue with technology.

I’ll admit that the Luddite in me is highly attuned to sniffing out this sort of thing, but nonetheless, to see such an admission of technology’s fallibility laid out in black and white was disturbingly honest.

Matt Hancock is forever banging on about how technology will be the saviour of the health service.

Well, Matt, we’re now facing an old-school virus, as in the ‘bad news wrapped in protein’ variety, and no app or flow chart is going to deal with it. 

You can’t sanitise the coronavirus crisis by hiding behind tele-medicine

What we need is alcohol hand wash, face masks and some good, old-fashioned, sleeves-rolled-up, patient-facing, front-line clinical grafters. Not mouse-pushing office bods issuing yet more dictums from afar.

You see, no matter how much IT is shoved on us and how much ‘they’ try to control our work with coding and flow charts, when it comes down to it, medicine is and always will be a blood and guts, cough in your face, suppurating leg ulcer, three-dimensional job.

Trying to sanitise this by hiding behind tele-medicine and NHS 111 is about as useful as standing on a river bank and shouting at a drowning person instructions on how to swim.

In all the panic and fuss, we must not forget that there will still be all our usual pathology sitting out there.

Pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis and boring old-fashioned asthma attacks aren’t going to go away. So beware of over-diagnosing coronavirus, as for, at the moment at least, your patient’s condition is still far more likely to be something else.

Oh, and one more thing. For God’s sake, write your own letters, the old-fashioned way.

Dr David Turner is a GP in North West London