The UK population is much better equipped to self-diagnose and self-monitor than they have been at any other time in history. Health-tracking devices have made it far easier for patients to be aware of their heart-rates and general fitness without the need to visit a doctor. Indeed, the number of people using trackers is ever increasing and this is likely to continue as the benefits of products like the Fitbit and iWatch raise awareness of the wearable tech market at large.
Conditions such as type 1 diabetes have already set a precedent for health self-management, with patients managing their condition aided by monitoring devices. Therefore a rise in this kind of technology could potentially lead to a decrease in the number of people seeking sustained medical guidance for conditions like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
As technology and the internet continue to become critical to everyday life, our interaction with GPs could be cut down to just the process of obtaining a prescription. In fact, even that is something that can be done entirely online today. For some conditions it is possible for online clinics to provide prescriptions via an online consultation with a qualified doctor. The process cuts out the need to book an appointment and provides the patient with a quick, safe and discreet way of receiving the treatment they require.
So will the healthcare industry of the future build on this? During the bird and swine flu epidemics there was a change in the way people obtained health information. In 2009, when the swine flu pandemic struck the UK, it was made clear that patients should avoid going to their surgery or hospital. All care was provided remotely, and the NHS provided information to huge numbers of people online, bypassing face-to-face contact with a GP. The way the epidemic was handled suggested to some that the traditional healthcare model was changing and moving online.
Is our relationship with the GP really changing? It's clear that, for a whole host of reasons, things are different now than they were 50 years ago. Self-diagnosis and remote assistance have been effectively incorporated into many medical situations. It makes sense to go online when convenience and efficiency is what you are seeking, as long as your prescription comes via accredited doctors and pharmacists. It's difficult though, to suggest that this spells the end for the traditional face-to-face appointment. Some conditions can simply not be self-diagnosed yet, and there are a huge number of illnesses and afflictions that are likely to require professional hands-on help for some time to come. Although tech industries may soon offer devices that enable self x-ray and 3D printers that can produce replacement medical equipment, there is still a need for a personal consultation with a health professional in many situations.