Liam Farrell: A GP in my pocket - the upside of smartphone consultations

In medicine, as in life, even when nothing is happening, something is happening.

I hadn’t seen Joe for a while; he had a cornucopia of complaints, all of which he’d have Googled and catastrophised about beforehand, so you might consider the cessation of his daily visits as a most welcome development, like the relief you feel when you stop banging your head against a brick wall.

But as Hitchcock said: 'There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.' I was getting anxious, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and for Joe to descend upon me in wrath with a Ragnarok of symptomatology.

So when I passed his cottage, quaintly decorated with the traditional Irish aluminium windows and TV satellite dish, I thought I’d check him out.

He seemed a bit furtive.

'There is a kind of confession in your looks,' I said, 'which your modesties have not craft enough to colour.'

'OK, OK, I was dreading having to tell you,' said Joe. 'There’s no easy way to say this, I know it’ll hurt, but I’ll be straight; I’ve got myself another doctor.'

Ignoring my little jig of despair, he pulled out his mobile phone.

'Look at this,' he said. 'Doc in My Pants, it’s called. "See an NHS GP in minutes", they said. Now I can talk to a doctor whenever I want. They’re available any time of the day, any time of the night, 24/7.

'And so am I, my Precioussss,' he added, his tone both sinister and self-satisfied.

He pressed a button and a screen came up. 'Symptom checker,' it said.

'You’re supposed to go through this first,' explained Joe. 'To see if you really need to see a doctor at all, but everyone just skips that part. Self-limiting disorders, I don’t think so.'

A new screen appeared, a harassed young doc, who I noted was wearing a stethoscope, purely for theatrical purposes, I presume, but we all do that, don’t we?

'Not you again,' he said to Joe, before getting up and walking off-screen. There was a banging sound which the experienced clinician could instantly recognise as the head of an exasperated colleague making repeated contact with a brick wall.

'You see,' said Joe. 'They already know me well.'

That’s continuing care for you, I thought; to paraphrase La Rochefoucauld: 'There is, in the misfortune of other doctors, something not entirely unpleasant'.

  • Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell

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