Great Britain

We need to think about what visiting the doctor will look like in the future

The telephone diabetes consultation – I have type 1 which is thought to be an autoimmune disorder and hit when I was aged two – turned out to be one of the best I’d ever had. 

Previous face-to-face hospital appointments have, for me, usually involved some combination of waiting around for hours on end before getting poked and prodded and questioned and talked down to. I’ve often been left with the impression that I’m doing everything wrong. This despite blood test results showing that I must be doing something right and some complications easing in severity at an age when you might expect them to be doing the opposite.

Goodness knows what people who’ve had more struggles with the condition must feel like but I got so fed up with the feeling of being a naughty school child who’d accumulated enough diabetic demerits to warrant an extended spell in doctor’s detention I stopped going. 

Now, I know that isn’t recommended, although I’ve kept up with the requisite checks at the GP’s surgery, had regular blood tests and religiously attended my eye screenings. 

Covid throwing the spotlight on health generally, however, persuaded me to roll the dice with the clinic again and it was thanks to Covid that the appointment was conducted over the phone. 

And it worked. The doctor was business-like and seemed to listen to me, something they don’t always do. They gave some thought to a problem I’ve been having lately and offered a potential solution. I’m still waiting to try it out because the necessary letter seemed to get stuck in the NHS’s bureaucratic quicksand. But if the eventual result is good I’ll give that a pass. 

So score one for the telephone. No mess, no fuss, no feeling like a bad kid. 

Phone appointments and consultations were, of course, available in some circumstances before the pandemic, but the latter has dramatically increased their use and given that I have other issues (a legacy of getting run over by a truck), and multiple clinics to manage, they’re a godsend. 

I have a lot less shlepping around to deal with, which is very welcome given the complexities of life with impaired mobility. 

When it comes to the GP, I usually get a text asking me to rate my experience with options ranging from one (very good) to five (very poor) after a phone call. If I sent a zero would that equate to awesome? 

One thing gives me pause, however. 

Most people probably know someone, or of someone, who’s been to see their doctor for an everyday issue, only for the doctor so spot another condition, which is often much more serious. It does seem like lot of cancers are picked up like this, and getting them picked up early can be crucial. 

You can see the problem, can’t you. A medic can’t spot a worrying looking mole, or a lump, or what have you, over the phone. 

There are other conditions that also require not just sight but sometimes touch to properly diagnose. Someone close to me has issues created by rheumatoid arthritis. Their treatment has been greatly set back by the fact that no one’s been able to actually see the problems they’ve been experiencing. One of their issues, long suspected, was only confirmed through paying up for a private physiotherapist who said “you know you’ve got ...”

There’s a great deal of value in having the facility to do medical business over the phone. It works for both patients and, I would imagine, the people treating them at a time when the health service is facing a lengthy backlog, with waiting lists expanding at a faster rate than Boris Johnson’s Downing Street decoration bill. 

But I do wonder how many people there are out there who’ve been incubating what might, at the very least, be a debilitating and painful condition through not being able to be seen and could, in the worst cases, be every bit as lethal as the accursed virus we’ve all been living with. 

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