Friday 6 January 2017

NHS To Trial Its Medical Advice Smartphone App


An app that helps people get medical advice on their smartphones is to be trialled by NHS England, it has been announced.

The technology uses an algorithm to run a chat service that will search a database of symptoms, before advising whether to see a GP, go to hospital, visit a pharmacy or stay at home.

NHS 111 is designed as an alternative to the NHS’s non-emergency 111 helpline, which has seen an increase in demand from 2m to 15m calls a year in four years.

But concerns have been expressed that the introduction of the app targets a symptom, rather than the cause, of the pressure on NHS services.

“Whilst it’s always important to maximise use of technology to empower patients and make efficient use of NHS resources, this initiative does not address the fundamental problem that we have a severe shortage of GPs and health professionals in community settings,” said Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the British Medical Association GP committee chairman.

He said the app would rely “slavishly” on algorithms, rather than on clinical staff, which would leave no room for “clinical interpretation in certain instances”.

“This proposal does not address this fundamental limitation and may make the situation worse,” he said. “What we should instead be doing is investing in having properly trained and appropriate clinical staff handling calls and requests from patients, complementing the use of new technologies.”

The six-month trial, beginning this month, will be available to north London residents in Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Haringey and Islington. Patients can choose to continue using the 111 helpline.

Clinical commissioning groups have worked with technology firm Babylon to trial the app.

Adam Duncan, the chief operating officer at GPs’ out-of-hours cooperative London Central and West, said the body was “happy to be working with NHS England and the other providers involved to ensure the piloting of the NHS 111 app is evaluated robustly”.

He said: “We aim to provide an alternative to using the NHS 111 telephone number for service users that would find it most convenient to their lifestyle. The use of the app could also reduce the demand on NHS 111 during the most busy periods, whilst retaining the high quality and accessible service.”



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