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GP practices to expect surge in tech hypochondriacs, warns leading surgeon

by Valeria Fiore
14 September 2018

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GP practices and A&E departments will ‘undoubtedly see’ a growing number of patients concerned over what health data means for them, a leading surgeon has predicted. 
Mr Richard Kerr, chair of the Royal College of Surgeons’ Commission on the Future of Surgery, has warned that the increased availability of new technologies such as wearable health devices and sensor will leave more patients alarmed over the data collected.
Speaking ahead of the commission’s final report – to be published in the Autumn – Mr Kerr said that technology could cause unnecessary alarm about their wellbeing among people who are in fact in good health.
He highlighted the growing abundance of health-related information patients can now access through everything from wearable health tech to personalised data made available through DNA testing and advances in areas such as genomics.
All this informaion may, Mr Kerr said, cause some patients to feel ‘confused and scared,’ fearing for their health even when there is no reason to do so, a development that could see them flock to GP practices and A&E departments in inreasing numbers. 
Mr Kerr added that the NHS should think about what is needed to support these patients.
He said: ‘The “worried well” will be sent into hyperdrive. GP practices and A&Es will undoubtedly see more patients who are concerned about what this information means for them.’
Health professionals should therefore be ready ‘to help patients navigate this proliferation of information and provide tailored support so they can understand their risk of illness’, he added.
His fears come just a week after health and social care secretary Matt Hancock delivered a speech at the NHS Expo in Manchester to explain his vision for a more tech-driven NHS, with the new NHS app allowing patients to access their medical records to be available to all by the end of the year.
Mr Hancock also said yesterday that he would want to see GP at Hand, the app allowing video consultations with NHS GPs, to reach every patient in the country.
Risk of misdiagnosis
Another side effect of the proliferation of new technologies is the risk of misdiagnosis, according to Mr Kerr.
He said: ‘There is unfortunately the danger that the unscrupulous of our profession could prey on the fears of patients, convincing them that treatment is necessary, where it is not.
‘Medical professionals will need to be vigilant to the risk of misdiagnosis and overtreatment that this proliferation of personalised health information could bring.’