Technology is changing the way we see our GP and, in the future, could allow us to predict illnesses before they occur.

Imagine if you were given the secret to predicting when members of your workforce were going to come down with a cold or spot patterns in sickness that could lead you to take steps to prevent it.

Technology is being used to reduce sickness rates at work and make it easier and more convenient to see your doctor.

Salford-based Dr Now – recently rebranded as Now GP – is a mobile app that allows subscribers who are willing to pay to have an appointment with a doctor via video link through their smartphone, iPad, PC  etc – taking away the hassle of getting to your local surgery and cutting queues in waiting rooms in the process.

Users wanting a consultation are usually seen within 15 minutes by one of the business’s own bank of doctors and can even request whether the GP is male or female.

As well as having a health issue checked out, patients can be prescribed medication as a result of the appointment, which is delivered to them by the Now Pharmacy arm of the wider Now Healthcare company.

Delivery to London addresses is within a few hours or the following day for those outside the capital, or prescriptions can be sent directly to a patient’s local chemist for collection.

Now GP

Earlier this year the service even carried out its first international call from a patient on holiday in the US; feeling dizzy at the top of the Empire State Building, the 17-year-old remembered he had the app and was given advice by a Now GP doctor based in the UK, who had access to his medical history and could advise him on the spot, preventing him from having to incur costs from seeing a doctor abroad.

It took the company to new heights, and chief executive and founder Lee Dentith believes the sky’s the limit for this meeting of technology and healthcare.

“Business as a whole is absolutely flying,” he says.

“We have a whole spectrum of people using the app but what has surprised us is the number of over 50s, who say the biggest attraction is that they don’t have to leave their home to see a doctor and they’re prepared to pay for that convenience.

“We also have mothers ringing up to seek reassurance about their young children. With people paying to have food delivered to their home, it’s only natural that they’d happily pay for somebody to drop their medicine off when they’re ill.”

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Dentith’s background is in technology, having worked with Google on their UK launch and founded several businesses.

Married with four children, he was inspired to set up the start-up from his own experience of booking GP appointments.

“Whenever anybody was ill it was a nightmare – we either couldn’t get an appointment or the appointment we were given was in five days’ time,” he says.

“When I worked away I did a lot of video calls with my wife and children and I thought, realistically, we should be able to have video consultations with our doctor.”

The appointments are aimed at giving reassurance, direction or diagnosis.

Dentith says: “We’re not saying we’re the answer to every problem, just the same as a GP isn’t the answer to every problem, but if we can treat you we will or we will direct you to where you should go.”

The service is currently available on Android and iOS but will expand to cover other devices according to chief technical officer Tim Ng.

Now GP CTO Tim Ng

Users can take pictures of a rash, for example, and the doctor at the other end of the video call view these on their HD phone as if the patient was in the same room.

Much of Ng’s work has been around security to protect doctor-patient confidentiality.

While the app is finding favour with individuals, many businesses are also latching on to the benefits of Now GP, which was set up to cater for professionals who lack the time to go to a GP’s surgery.

They are subscribing to offer the service as an employee perk as well as improving the health and, ultimately, attendance of their staff. It could prevent many of the issues caused by presenteeism – where employees turn up to work ill and then spread their germs to colleagues, thus creating more incidences of illness and costing the business money in sick days.

Whenever an employee has used the app for an appointment and is advised to take days off, for example, an automated email goes to their line manager to inform them, taking away the onus on the employee to explain why they can’t go into work that day; the service can also provide back-to-work certificates for those who have been absent through sickness.

Though its success since its August 2015 launch is impressive, the Now GP app is only the start according to Dentith and Ng, who see the next step as harnessing the data captured by the service.

“What’s exciting for us is if an employer has multiple sites with multiple departments, through the anonymisation of the platform we can see which department is suffering the most illnesses,” Dentith says.

“We could then notify their HR department that, for example, their Leeds office has a 23 per cent higher ratio of Monday morning sickness than other branches.”

Each incidence of sickness is given a different code so the data can show the illness and reason the GP has given for it occurring, but not the name of the patient.

“You might be able to see that every November a certain number of people come down with the same chest infection or SAD syndrome (seasonal affective disorder),” Dentith says.

“You can identify these kinds of issues so employers can benefit from the data; they could be stress-related or down to the office environment.

“This platform that we’ve facilitated isn’t just about seeing a doctor, it’s about wellness as a whole and there are a series of products coming from that.”

In the future these products will come together to create a pre-emptive healthcare, he says, with the Internet of Things playing a huge part in the process.

This could include wearable technology, such as smartwatches, that could assess sleep patterns and body temperature with data recorded on a central system; when the system detects an abnormal pattern in a patient’s body biometrics they would receive a text or email notifying them that they could be about to fall ill, Dentith explains. 

“We’re expanding quite quickly and growing the business to the point where we can scale massively,” Ng says.

“We’re currently on Android and iOS but we’re putting things in place where we can go beyond that.

"It’s massively exciting, and that’s an understatement for me, looking at what we’re going to do and the impact we’re going to have on the sector.”