Health – Self-diagnosis a general practice tool

With Dr Peter Hall

Brace yourself, general practice is changing and we’re all running to catch up. For a start about a quarter of our current GPs are planning to retire in the next five years so there is a workforce crisis looming. The number of young doctors entering the profession is encouraging but, partly due to poor recruitment during the 1990s, there is a big dip in the 40-year-olds. And of course as the New Zealand population ages their medical needs are going to get more complicated. Who is going to look after them?

Then there is a new consumerism impacting medicine. Patients want their services more quickly, more conveniently and more comprehensively than ever before. Technological changes are afoot as well, with many people preferring electronic communications with their doctor. And medical progress, especially in surgical techniques and imaging, is phenomenal. So what does this mean for you, the patient?

I’m going to make some predictions here, which I admit are personal and provisional.
You will see your GP face-to-face only when you specifically want to. Many of your interactions and services will be managed really well by other staff – medical assistants, nurse practitioners and practice nurses – and much of that communication will be via email, Skype, portal or txt.

While these services have traditionally been provided free of charge (because they were ancillary to a face to face consultation), in the future they will be stand-alone clinical services and will be charged as such. The convenience may make these new fees more acceptable to patients. When privacy and safety issues are worked out, online consultations will become the norm.

This is already the basis of some innovations such as iMoko – Lance O’Sullivan’s effort to make medical services accessible to daycares and schools across the country.
More GPs will have special interests. This means you might see other doctors within the practice to get all the services you need and you will come to regard a group of doctors as “your GP”.

Medical knowledge is progressing so quickly that it takes teams of doctors to keep up with it. There might be one person conducting the orchestra but it will be quite a big band.
You will become increasingly your own diagnostician. Apps like Ada will enable you to figure out what’s wrong with you well before you get anywhere a doctor. And my profession will be smart enough to see those things as opportunities rather than threats, especially if they can be plugged into your clinical records.

So, welcome to the future. Like it or not, we are going there together!