Rise of the digital physician

I recently sat in a room watching an all too familiar parade of ten minute pitches, as entrepreneurs waxed lyrical about their game changing apps…and to be fair the vast majority of them were pretty good.  The only difference with this scenario was that every single pitch came from a young physician, in fact the room hosted over one hundred young physicians or ‘doctorpreneurs’  as they are now known. 

The doctor next to me proudly showed me his released app, and side line business (at the moment), with what was in essence the ‘uber’ of the doctor-on-call world, showing the live location of all on-call GPs relative to the users current location, along with the GPs experience and how much it will cost for them to travel to the users location, all in an attempt to make seeing a GP in person more convenient and with more choice.  All in all I heard a dozen pitches that evening ranging from new digital medical devices like smart otoscopes, to in-practice apps by physicians for physicians, to AI diagnosis tools.  This experience was initially both exciting and interesting to listen to, because each and every app presented was born from either personal physician insight or genuine professional need.  At first I thought how cool it was to be part of what felt like an underground movement; by day these people were physicians but by night they were tech innovators.  Then a couple of worrying thoughts struck me about this  emerging trend.

The first was the level of disillusionment that, particularly these young GPs had with their primary role and career choice.  According to those that I spoke to, the prospect of being a GP now-a-days was neither a secure nor rewarding proposition and was certainly not viewed as a fulfilling career choice.  As such the vast majority of the physicians I spoke to were looking for an alternative career opportunity, and when surrounded by the success of thousands of tech entrepreneurs in their consumer lives, and presented on a daily basis with so much unmet medical need, the opportunity and draw of turning their hand to the world of digital innovation is just to great. 

This brought me to my second concern. There was such breath of digital solution emerging from this movement that it highlights the shear scale of unmet digital need in the healthcare system, so much so in fact that the NHS itself offers innovation funding to these aspiring doctorprenuers to actually get their solutions built and off the ground.  As a result, on the one hand the NHS is struggling to recruit enough GPs to work in the NHS (possibly and partly due to previously mentioned lack of professional desire) and on the other hand the NHS is actively supporting these doctorprenuerial ventures, which ultimately could remove more doctors from the system, all sadly born from an over burdened, digitally disparate and disconnected healthcare system. 

Which brings me to my third concern.  With the emergence of so many digital solution apps rising up from within the NHS to satisfy a sea of unmet need and to improve efficiencies, how is it going to be possible to bring all of these solutions together in a way that not only works to solve the digital requirements of the NHS, but actually doesn’t make things worse.  There is a real concern that increased and disparate data streams, all coming from different directions with no obvious cohesiveness is more than likely going to increase workload, increase the likely hood of error and further segment the NHS. 

In summary, I found myself in a room with a hundred plus trained physicians, some with alternative career aspirations, but all with a different digital solution, all made by different people, all designed in different ways, all designed as a point solution to a singular need, and each with no fore thought to the app that proceeded it or that would follow.  If this is a UK trend with the next generation of physicians (not to mention globally) The question is, is this the start of digital health chaos or the emergence of a digital revolution that propels and pioneers the NHS into the digital age and saves the day?