Benefits of virtual GPs for people with medical conditions
People affected by conditions such as diabetes and COPD tend to have regular contact with health professionals and annual check-ups they attend in person but outside of these appointments, virtual GP apps may be useful.
Libby Dowling, senior clinical officer at Diabetes UK, says: “Diabetes is a serious and complex condition that requires careful self-management to avoid potentially devastating complications. It is important that people with diabetes have a good relationship with their GP and healthcare team to ensure consistency and long-term management of their condition."
“However, virtual GPs can be beneficial for people with diabetes if they have an acute problem, such as an infection, or if they are unable to see their GP at short notice. We understand that sometimes it might not always be possible to see your GP, so speaking to a qualified GP online for these sorts of issues might be a suitable short-term solution for some people.”
Here are some of the pros of the virtual GPs for those with medical conditions:
- People with conditions may be more likely to develop new or related issues and a virtual GP offers a convenient way to get expert advice or a prescription
- Apps may be beneficial for people who have been recently diagnosed or are unfamiliar with a condition
- If a condition limits mobility it may be easier to have a video appointment at home
- Virtual GP apps allow appointments at times GP surgeries will be closed and if you have a phone and internet connection you can access a GP while you’re abroad
These are things to think about if you're using a virtual GP:
- A doctor may need to see you in person to make an accurate diagnosis, especially if you’re concerned about a serious condition
- Virtual GP apps rely on the user having a device with a camera, reasonable internet connection and some tech knowledge. However, some providers such as LV= Doctor Services offer telephone consultations as well
- Apps can’t replace physical appointments for all conditions. People with diabetes will need to see their doctor in person at least once a year
- Some GP surgery websites offer online appointment and prescription services, so you may not need an app
- AI (Triage) tools used by some App providers have not been extensively tested or clinically validated and are a cause for concern among many medical professionals
List of UK virtual GP apps
- Babylon – 100,000+ Android installs, Samsung to pre-install it on phones
- GP at Hand – NHS app powered by Babylon
- Now GP
- Push Doctor – 50,000+ Android installs
- GP Online
- Cigna Virtual Health
- Talk To A Doctor App: 24/7 UK GP Appointments
Insurer branded GP apps
- LV= Doctor Services - powered by SquareHealth
- Nuffield Health Virtual GP - powered by Doctor Care Anywhere
- Vitality GP - powered by SquareHealth
Other healthcare apps where a virtual GP is not included: myGP, Changing Health (aimed at people with diabetes), Ask NHS (111 service) and GDPQ (lets you book a GP to visit you in person).
The rise of GP apps - how to download them and how they work
In the past few years, several companies have launched apps that allow the user to book video consultations with a GP using their phone, tablet or computer.
The rise in their use has come at an opportune time as the way people interact with GPs continues to change.
There has been a decline in people preferring to see one GP – 46% of people said they like to see the same doctor in a July 2017 NHS patient survey, compared with 56% in 2012.
In the same survey, 76% said they are happy with their GP surgery’s opening times, compared with 81% in 2012.
The apps are designed to offer a convenient way to speak to a GP to discuss new or ongoing medical concerns. The doctor can try to make a diagnosis, offer advice and even write a prescription.
Because you can book the appointment via the app and have the video consultation at home or wherever you feel comfortable, it means you don’t have to spend hours on the phone booking an appointment or in a waiting room.
There may be an artificial intelligence (AI) diagnosis feature that allows you to check your symptoms before you speak to a real person. However, the clinical safety of such services has not yet been proven and as such adoption of such tools needs to be carefully considered.
There is a range of other apps and online services that don't offer GP appointments but may be useful for people with medical conditions. For example, Changing Health can help people manage diabetes using their lifestyle data.
Many virtual GP apps are free to download but some charge a subscription to use the service or a fee per consultation.
How to use a virtual GP app
- Download your chosen app from the Google Play Store if you have an Android device or the App Store if you have an Apple phone or tablet
- Log in. You may need to supply some personal information. Some apps will charge a subscription fee while others may charge per consultation
- Book a GP appointment using the app or check your symptoms if it has AI functionality
- Before the consultation, make sure you are comfortable and that you’re in a private space where nobody can hear what you’re saying. The doctor is likely to confirm this before they start.
- Make sure you’re in a well-lit, quiet room so the doctor can see and hear you clearly. Natural light is often best so you might want to sit near a window
- Have any details about previous treatments or medication to hand
- After the appointment, you may be able to select a local pharmacy to collect a prescription or watch the consultation so you can check advice given by the doctor
Check online reviews of the app you want to download. Don’t download it or supply personal information if you’re concerned it is not a legitimate company.
Virtual GPs from insurers
Some health and life insurance companies offer branded virtual GP services or free subscriptions to other companies’ apps.
The idea is that customers can use the apps to improve their health and healthier customers mean the insurers will have to pay fewer claims.