Dr Chris Mimnagh: Telemedicine should be as simple as Alexa

We have a habit of making things difficult in the NHS. Ideally, if we can make it difficult and expensive it's even better.

A perfect example is superglue. We pay a fortune for sterile blue coloured superglue because we're using medical grade stuff. It's the same as the clear stuff from the DIY store, but it's guaranteed sterile and for the NHS.

I think telemedicine is a similar sticky mess.

What will the NHS pay to monitor patients in their home? A cost of £120 a year, plus set-up costs, gets you a box and an alarm.

The box only does the monitoring thing and the real cost is the wage of the human who answers the call on the button.

You only use it in emergencies, the rest of the time you try to forget it.

I bought my parents a small, voice-operated box for £50 which now controls their heating, light and has the potential to monitor house security too.

The extras will cost a couple of hundred, but that's it, no annual fee.

They say hello to Alexa (the voice of the box) every morning, wish her good night, ask her to play music, read books. They could, if they wanted, ask her to do the shopping too. 

All this needs no training, is not saved for emergencies but is rapidly becoming part of life for a pair of closer-to-80-than-70-year-olds.

All that has to happen now is for the NHS to add a new ‘skill’ to the options list, which includes voice ordering of prescriptions, booking appointments, or even messaging family members if nobody says hello by 9am or if doors are opened after midnight.

I know that we won't, we can't make it that simple, cheap or consumer friendly.

  • Dr Chris Mimnagh is a GP in Liverpool and head of clinical innovation liaison and deployment at The Innovation Agency, the academic health science network for the north-west coast.

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