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End Of The Doctor's Surgery
By Ted Jeory
A BID to save nearly 3 billion by slashing appointments with a doctor and treating patients via computer will put lives at risk, ministers were warned.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is planning a technological revolution that could spell the end of the traditional doctor's surgery.
A new system of "virtual clinics" is being planned in which GPs connect with patients via iPads and Skype, an idea that NHS bosses are importing from India.
The reforms would save 2.9 billion "almost immediately" and improve the lives of most patients, for example by avoiding the need to find child care during appointments, Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said last week.
However, critics are concerned the initiative would create a two-tier NHS in which the less technologically able, particularly the elderly, would be left behind.
Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham called the plan "dangerous", while Age UK said cutting the number of personal appointments would erode the vital trust between doctor and patient.
"We need to harness and better utilise more modern types of technology such as telehealth and mobile technology" : Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter
The ideas, contained in a Health Department report called Digital First, include arming community nurses with iPads in rural areas and making more use of Skype video calling between GPs and patients. There will be more online assessments "augmented" with video calls.
Mobile phone "apps" will be used to access lab reports and health records and negative test results will be sent by text messages rather than delivered in person. Mr Hunt, who made a fortune by creating an internet company, believes that while mobile broadband technology is revolutionising most walks of life, there is a problem once people encounter the relatively antiquated systems of the NHS.
The Government is trying to fill a 20 billion NHS funding gap and health chiefs want to reduce "needless" appointments that clog up staff time.
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