'Predictive prevention' tech could increase GP workload unnecessarily

The RCGP has warned that equipping patients with wearable health technology could result in unnecessary work for GPs after health secretary Matt Hancock outlined plans for new 'digital approaches' to prevention programmes.

Health secretary Matt Hancock wants the NHS to make use of patient-generated real-time data (Photo: iStock.com/Tracey Media)
Health secretary Matt Hancock wants the NHS to make use of patient-generated real-time data (Photo: iStock.com/Tracey Media)

Speaking yesterday at an event held by insurance company Vitality and tech giant Apple, Mr Hancock said that ‘predictive prevention’ in healthcare, using patient-generated real-time data, would help build an NHS that was ‘fit for the future’.

Citing predictions that by 2030 patients will be ‘diagnosed at home using medical sensors built into their mobile phones’, Mr Hancock said: ‘Doctors will be able to use digital devices and medicines, wearables and AI to predict, prevent and treat people with precision. Specific and accurate not general and variable – that’s the medicine of the future.’

Such technology could help patients and doctors to spot early signs of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and dementia, and create ‘personalised, targeted interventions to treat people and help them change behaviours to cut risk factors,’ he said.

GP workload

However, the RCGP said that while technology had 'the potential to transform healthcare', such interventions could potentially increase health inequalities and GP workload.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘New technology and gadgets can be expensive, and we must be sure that if we are recommending certain devices to patients that we are sure of the reliability and evidence behind them, and that we are not leaving more socio-economically disadvantaged patients, or even just our less tech-savvy patients, behind.

‘It's also a reality that many patients might not understand how to interpret the data that their devices are feeding to them, and seek help from a healthcare profession to interpret it – in many cases this wouldn’t be a good use of GPs' scarce time.’

Health tech

Since being appointed secretary of state for health and social care in July, Mr Hancock has made technology one of his top three priorities for the NHS alongside workforce and prevention.

Mr Hancock said yesterday that the DHSC was 'developing new digital approaches to prevention programmes', including looking at how patient-generated real-time data could be used in NHS health checks.

He added that Public Health England was looking at the potential use of referrals through social media and incentives delivered through digital platforms to promote physical activity and help people quit smoking and lower alcohol consumption.

‘Only by every citizen taking personal responsibility for managing their own health, by making full use of the predictive prevention and personalised health services we’re introducing, can we build a better and more sustainable health and social care system,’ Mr Hancock said.

Professor Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Ultimately, any new innovation or way of working should be rigorously and consistently evaluated in terms of its benefit for patient, and its impact on general practice and the wider NHS – and we have called for a rapid evaluation system in order to do this.’

Mr Hancock has previously said he would ensure GPs receive ‘upfront investment’ to help practices adopt new technologies.

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