Hands up if you’ve ever been ill and you’ve immediately Googled your symptoms? Don’t worry because you’re not alone.

I qualified as a doctor in 2000 and became a GP in 2004. If I had £1 every time a patient typed their symptoms into a search engine I could fix the NHS’s financial black hole in a stroke.

The problem is when patients Google their symptoms, it gives them the worst case scenario rather than the most likely cause. Got a headache? Type in the symptoms and the computer will tell you it’s a brain tumour.

Got a cough or a minor chest infection? Insert the symptoms into Google and it will probably tell you it’s lung cancer.

Matt Orr

Matt Orr

What this demonstrates is that there’s an appetite for self-diagnosis. People will always use technology to try and identify the cause of their illness. This in turns causes extra anxiety and stress and makes the problem worse.

However this trend for consulting Google before you see a doctor highlights a deeper point. Just imagine if instead of inserting your symptoms into a search engine you shared them with a bot, which used artificial intelligence to filter them before you went to see a GP.

The current system is such that if a patient presents with a chest infection I’ll ask a series of questions.

Are you short of breath? Have you coughed up any blood? What colour is your sputum? Have you experienced any chest pain? How long has it been going on? Do you smoke?

If another patient presents with a chest infection you’d probably ask exactly the same questions. Remember GPs only have 10 minutes to see a patient and make a diagnosis.

In the future patients will probably fill in a questionnaire online before seeing a doctor or speak to a bot. They could ask you all the questions I am going to ask, even access your records, and then all we would need to do is examine the patient or do the necessary treatment.

The GP is looking for red flag in order to make a more accurate diagnosis

It seems daft to spend your whole time asking questions when you could be examining the patient or discussing the treatment, which is the bit that they really need.

Opponents will say this makes GPs less personal but I would argue that ticking a load of boxes from routine questions is less important than coming up with a shared plan to make the patient better.

Doctors are under pressure because there aren’t enough of them so we need to find a way to help them do their job better and technology is the answer.

We won’t stop people Googling their systems but there’s a better to use technology to improve patient outcomes.

Can tech save the NHS?

BusinessCloud has joined forces with Dr Orr on holding a confernence on June 6th entitled ‘Can tech save the NHS?’ It takes place at Chorley Town Hall.

To register go to https://www.businesscloud.co.uk/events/2019-06-06-can-technology-save-the-nhs