Top GP says technology firms are creating a 'digital divide' in patient care

By agency reporter
October 4, 2018

The UK's top GP will hit back at accusations that doctors are "technophobic dinosaurs" who are reluctant to move with the times in her annual speech to members in Glasgow today (4 October 2018).

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, will accuse wealthy tech companies of creating a 'digital divide' as younger and fitter patients are 'siphoned off' at the expense of those in greatest need, and then using 'bully boy tactics' if anyone challenges their methods.

She will tell the audience of 2,000 GPs and health professionals that far from being 'afraid' of innovation, GPs are the champions of safe technology – but the sky-high costs of trying to keep up with private companies is impossible.

She will sound a warning that the ways in which some privately-funded initiatives are being implemented has the potential to exacerbate health inequalities for patients and will call for huge investment in GP technology so that "family doctors can deliver safe, effective high-quality care for everyone".

"Those with the latest smart phone, those who speak English and live in cities, those who have high speed broadband, are being offered something that others are not", she will say.

"I believe that with the right use of technology in the future NHS we can actually aim to reduce health inequalities and counteract some of the adverse social determinants of health. But GPs on the frontline just can’t afford the investment in technology, most of us aren't being propped up by wealthy venture capitalists, after all.

"We need technology that works for patients, makes our lives easier and is not lining the pockets of private investors at the expense of the NHS."

Pushing back at accusations that general practice is not moving with the times, Professor Stokes-Lampard, a practising GP in the Midlands, will argue that where outdated methods are being used in general practice, it is because the profession lacks the resources to update existing technology, or implement new technology.

Her comments come as the College published the results of a poll of 1,216 GPs showing that almost a quarter of GPs who think that running their GP practice is unsustainable in the long term, cite technology costs as a reason – a figure that has doubled in 18 months as technology in the NHS has become more prominent.

"I get really exasperated when I hear accusations that GPs are technophobic dinosaurs. What utter nonsense", shesaid. "GPs are not 'afraid' of technology or innovation. But robots don't come cheap, tech costs money, and for GP practices that are already on the brink, implementing new, good technology is unfeasible."

Professor Stokes-Lampard will also reiterate the College's long-held concerns about GP at Hand, the NHS service available to some patients in London.

Describing the GP at Hand technology as "impressive" she will challenge the way in which the service targets new patients, saying that this threatens the financial model of traditional NHS general practice, "whereby the funding for fit and well people helps pay for the sick and needy."

She will also renew the College's calls for a robust, independent evaluation of GP at Hand to assure patients it is safe. "We need rapid, independent and scientific way to evaluate new innovations, such as online consulting options, software, apps and wearables, so that we can swiftly, safely and effectively establish which is the good new technology."

"Give us the IT tools we need in a way that does not put our existing services at risk –  in a way that benefits all our patients and makes our working lives easier", she will say.

Professor Stokes-Lampard will call on the four governments of the UK to invest in medical technology to support GPs and make the NHS the market leader so that family doctors can deliver safe, effective high-quality care for everyone.

In England, she will make the case that this can be funded through the long-term plan for the NHS, announced by Prime Minister Theresa May earlier this year, and will call for general practice to receive 11 per cent of the overall NHS budget.

Concluding her speech, she will say: "I call upon our political leaders to give us the tools we need. Give us the chance to tame the 'tech tsunami' in a way that doesn't put existing services at risk, in a way that benefits all our patients, and makes our working lives easier.

"Give us the extra investment we all need and bring our share of the NHS budget back to 11 per cent right across the UK."

* Royal College of General Practitioners


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