- Patients can wait on average 13 days to see a doctor, figures show
- But several apps now promise a way to bypass the wait with video calls
- Dr Lawrence Buckman, a GP in North London and former chair of the British Medical Association’s GPs’ committee, has given his verdict on the services
The doctor will see you now — but all too often, that’s no longer possible. Patients can wait on average 13 days to see a doctor and, according to NHS figures, the number who wait a week to see their GP has risen by 56 per cent in five years.
There is now a way to bypass that wait, via one of several apps which allow you to speak to a doctor using a video link on your phone.
It’s a concept set to become more widespread. The NHS wants all GPs to register at least 20 per cent of their patients with an online service (such as booking their appointments) by the end of March — and practices are also required to ‘support patients to use apps to access Patient Online services.’
A new wave of mobile phone apps allow patients to bypass the queues at GP surgeries
Here, Dr Lawrence Buckman, a GP in North London and former chair of the British Medical Association’s GPs’ committee, gives his verdict on a variety of apps that can help hook you up to a GP, get you a prescription or offer you urgent medical advice, at the touch of a button. We then rated them. (Unless otherwise stated, available free from App Store or Google Play.)
GP at Hand (Babylon Health)
GP at hand offers video appointments
What it provides: Video appointments with an NHS GP for patients living in one of five London locations.
How it works: Set up by four GP partners and backed by the NHS, this lets you book a free video appointment day or night, with an NHS GP who will discuss symptoms and book a face-to-face appointment if necessary. The doctor can prescribe medication, which you can pick up at a pharmacy.
But controlled drugs such as tramadol and other strong painkillers cannot be prescribed during the digital consultation. GP at Hand claims it can advise on conditions from lactose intolerance to tonsillitis, urinary tract infections and back pain. There are plans to extend it nationwide.
EXPERT VERDICT: The idea of doctors prescribing medicine to patients they haven’t physically examined or taken a detailed history from makes me nervous.
Without examining you, I don’t know if your croaky voice is a viral sore throat or pus on your tonsils, which indicates tonsillitis. Doctors shouldn’t generally prescribe antibiotics remotely. There is some value in video appointments as a first port of call, but a face-to-face follow-up service is necessary.
myGP allows you to make, view, book and cancel NHS doctor appointments
What it provides: Allows you to make, view, book and cancel appointments with your NHS GP.
How it works: When you log in you see when the next doctor or nurse appointments — telephone or face to face — are available up to 28 days in advance.
You can also use the app to view your medical records (by entering your ten-digit security number), and set alerts to remind you to take your medicines. As well as managing appointments you can add your children, partner and dependent adults. To register you put in your mobile number, date of birth and name. Around 700 NHS practices in England have adopted the system.
EXPERT VERDICT: There is nothing wrong with this — but most of what it offers is available on GP practice websites. Some people prefer to access this information via their phone, and it offers a certain convenience. The reminder for medication is something websites don’t offer, which may help the forgetful.
Qured matches you with a doctor with paid for at-home consultations costing £70 for 20 minutes
What it provides: Allows you to arrange for a GP to see you (for a fee) at home or a location to suit you in less than two hours.
How it works: After sending your request via the app, you get matched with a doctor and the app sends you a notification to confirm your appointment. At-home consultations start at £70 for 20 minutes, though charges rise from 8pm to 8am and go up to £150 for Bank Holiday call-outs.
The company says its doctors can help with ‘minor ailments like chickenpox, bloating, cellulitis and kidney infections’.
They can prescribe medicines and arrange to have it delivered for £30, which you pay through the app. At the moment the service is only available in London’s zone 1 (central) and certain SW London postcodes, though there are plans to expand nationwide.
EXPERT VERDICT: For a start, kidney infections are not minor, they can be very serious and are a leading cause of sepsis. It’s your right to choose, but I’d question whether you’re getting added value for £70.
Most GP surgeries will be able to see you on the day or even do a home visit for an acute problem, and if your problem isn’t serious, why pay £70 to see a doctor?
Now GP offers eight minute long appointments with registered GPs
What it provides: Video appointment with a GP (for a fee) at a time to suit you via video link on your smartphone.
How it works: Click on this app and you can book an eight-minute appointment with a registered GP via a video link on your phone.
The doctor can diagnose and prescribe medication, which can be delivered to your door (at extra cost) or to a local pharmacy.
You can express a preference for a male/female GP or a GP with specific clinical expertise. Each consultation costs £15. Last month it was (briefly) the most downloaded health app on iTunes.
EXPERT VERDICT: There are some circumstances in which it is perfectly proper for a GP to diagnose without seeing a patient over the phone. A good example is a child complaining of intense ear pain who also has a temperature for example and I might say: ‘Yes it sounds like an ear infection, and you need antibiotics.’ It might be acceptable in an emergency but there is then no guarantee of a follow-up appointment to check on the patient face to face.
Echo offers online prescription ordering
What it provides: Allows you to order your new NHS prescription and get it posted to you.
How it works: Traditionally a repeat NHS prescription means going to the GP to make your request, going back to collect it and then going to the pharmacy to pick up the medication.
The Echo app aims to save time and hassle. Scan your medication’s barcode using your phone camera then it is routed to your NHS GP, who checks the prescription. Once approved the prescription is processed by a participating pharmacy and the medicine is sent free of charge by Royal Mail. If you pay for prescriptions, you pay the standard £8.60 charge per item via the app.
To avoid running out of medication you can set up automatic reminders to re-order it.
EXPERT VERDICT: Around 90 per cent of NHS GPs are electronically connected to pharmacies. I can send a prescription direct to a pharmacy — patients don’t need an app. You can arrange to have prescriptions directed to a pharmacy near you which is far more convenient than going to your local sorting office to get a missing parcel if it isn’t delivered.
Push Doctor offers paid-for video consultations
What it provides: Video appointment (for a fee) with a GP as you wait in a pharmacy or later at home.
How it works: Currently to use this you need to go into one of 200 or so participating pharmacies across the UK, and enter your details and book an appointment on an iPad.
The consultation takes place via the app or your computer at home. Consultations last ten minutes and cost £25. The company says its GP can help with ailments such as ear, eye and skin conditions, mental health issues, joint problems and sexual health issues.
EXPERT VERDICT: A red eye can have myriad causes and I question how you can diagnose the cause without having a really good look in it. Ear pain too could be an infection but could be wax — you need to look and see.
Mental health problems can be more easily dealt with over the phone, as can sexual health problems and some people may feel they would rather be treated for problems like that remotely.
First Aid by British Red Cross
This app guides people through what to do in a health crisis
What it provides: Designed by Red Cross first-aid experts, this app coaches you through what to do in a crisis, treating injuries such as burns, concussion, insect bites, as well as symptoms of allergic reactions and breathlessness.
How it works: This has a menu of 18 possible scenarios. You click on the one you need and are given step-by-step advice.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘In a genuine emergency, your natural inclination will not be to fiddle with an app. It has a step-by-step guide for administering cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if someone stops breathing, but referring back to the instructions will slow you down to the point of uselessness. It’s far easier to call 999. But for minor injuries, it’s good to have calm, clear first aid advice at your fingertips
Additional reporting by Lucy Elkins