Data explosion leading to more “worried well”

A SURVEY of GPs has found that over eight out of 10 agreed that the mass of data available to patients from the internet and "home readings" will lead to an increase in the "worried well" seeking appointments.

Three hundred GPs were questioned on behalf of the Astellas Innovation Debate 2015 and 82 per cent said they had concerns that a mass of data and readings from healthcare devices and apps will make people unnecessarily worried about their health, with 88 per cent agreed it would lead to an increase in the "worried well" wanting appointments.

Seven out of 10 (76 per cent) said they had noticed an increase in the number of patients "self-diagnosing" from the internet over the past twelve months and 21 per cent said they had seen an increase in numbers of patients presenting at the surgery with data generated from health apps and smart devices.

Fifteen percent also reported an increase in the number of patients coming to see them with results from privately paid-for genetic tests.

The findings reflect results from a separate survey of consumers which showed that a third of Britons regularly "self-diagnose" on the internet before booking a GP appointment, and 15 per cent own a health app.

Many of the GPs (76 per cent) agreed that the digitised personal health data now available will overwhelm their present system and 80 per cent said that, unless it was validated and from a reliable source, they would struggle to make sense of data or trust its accuracy. However, 73 per cent said they were always happy to discuss such data with patients.

Only one in four (26 per cent) of the doctors surveyed agreed that the data would help them in identifying patients’ undiagnosed health problems more quickly.

Professor Lionel Tarassenko, a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and Head of Engineering at the University of Oxford, said: "Digital health technology is rapidly changing the dynamic between patients and healthcare professionals. With the rise of smartphones, more and more of us are carrying devices in our pockets that can generate huge amounts of data about our health in just seconds. But our phones, no matter how smart, are never going to replace our doctors.

"These survey findings confirm that we’re always going to need someone who can help make sense of what we’ve read on the internet, or of what our health apps are telling us. The ready availability of health data is a positive, but it also carries implications – including workload implications – for doctors, and for health services."

The Astellas Innovation Debate – i-Genes: What the DNA and Data Revolutions mean for our Health – took place on 29 January at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, bringing together a panel of world-renowned experts to discuss the data revolution and its implications for healthcare.