Patients who wish to see a GP on short notice will soon be able to consult physicians via a video phone call.
The NHS has given the green light to trial "GP at Hand", a video consultation set up with a locally based doctor. Enrolled patients will enter symptoms on a mobile app and will be called within two hours to discuss the information. Online healthcare provider Bablyon is a partner in the new scheme.
The trial will be offered only to Greater London residents and will be available as a 24-hour service. There is a catch, however. Patients will have to leave their current GPs and have all their records transferred to one of five central London surgeries. About 3.5 million people are expected to be eligible for the trial.
Speaking to the BBC, Dr Mobasher Butt said it was "high time" patients were able to benefit from technology when it comes to accessing healthcare. "We've benefited from this kind of technology in so many different aspects of our lives, whether that be shopping or banking, and it's really time that we are able to do that in healthcare for NHS patients."
Concerns have arisen about the scheme, however, particularly from the Royal College of GPs. Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard feared the program would only benefit younger and healthier people. "We understand that with increasingly long waiting times to see a GP, an online service is convenient and appealing," Stokes-Lampard said. "But older patients and those living with more complex needs want continuity of care and the security of their local practice where their GPs know them."
Stokes-Lampard also said there would likely be significant red tape for any patient wishing to switch back to the old method of visiting a GP in person.
GP at Hand claims it already has about 3,000 patients already signed up. It plans to extend the scheme beyond London if the trial is successful.