Selfie medicate: patients turn to Dr Smartphone
Thousands of Irish patients sign up to new web doc service for consultations and prescriptions
TakING a selfie of that mole, shining your mobile phone light down your throat - the way you tend to your ailments is about to be revolutionised forever.
Irish patients will be able to enjoy full video consultations with their doctors from the comfort of their own couch as part of a new iDoctor service that works out considerably cheaper than an average visit to GP.
Thousands have already signed up to Webdoctor.ie in a development that will bring the smartphone to the forefront of Irish medicine. The initiative was launched last month.
Patients have been filling in forms for their online consultations with Irish-based doctors and receiving prescriptions without having to leave the comfort of their own home.
The service covers a small range of treatments, from prescriptions for the pill to high cholesterol and erectile dysfunction. However, by July patients will be able to use their mobile phone cameras for live video consultations with their doctors.
Webdoctor.ie CEO Oisin Kim told the Sunday Independent: "You can shine your iPhone light down your throat or in your ear - or wherever your particular ailment may be - and get a far greater range of services over video."
He added: "We have spent a year and a half making sure this was a world class online medical service. Our doctors live and work in Ireland and are registered with the Irish Medical Council. Our security system for storing patients' details online is rated higher than any Irish bank. All of our scripts are sent to patients in plain envelopes and marked confidential and our doctors are fully covered by insurance.
"If a doctor can treat your concern, they will provide you with a consultation, and if your query does not fall inside the band of services we offer, then they will advise you to visit your local GP.
"The doctors do not get paid in relation to how many patients they tend to or direct elsewhere so the consultations are entirely clinically based," he added.
News of the service has already gone viral on social networking sites and Mr Kim says the feedback he has received has provided a telling insight into patients' changing lifestyles.
When asked about why so many are switching to online GP care, Mr Kim said: "For the majority, it's convenience. Seventy per cent submit treatment requests outside the hours of 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday. They also don't want to sit in GP waiting rooms. Our pricing is very competitive too. Regular GP visits cost around €50, while we charge €25 and we expect that our live video consultations will cost around €35. We operate a pay-as-you-go system."
The company is currently building a GP network throughout Ireland to facilitate the volume of treatment requests. Dr Sylvester Mooney, who has owned and managed the Albany Clinic for the last 25 years, is clinical director of the service.
Mr Kim hopes the new service will also attract female doctors.
"Two-thirds of female GPs are no longer practising, 10 years after qualifying. We would be delighted to see these GPs return to the workplace," he said.
In the coming months, the online GP service will expand into live video counselling services and home-based asthma, malaria and STI examinations.
However, despite technological developments, Mr Kim believes there will always be role for the traditional GP in society.
"We are not trying to replace the existing GP service, but there is a subset of treatments that can all be provided for online. Chemists will play a more active role in the future too, which is what they are keen to do.
"So, for example, one of the questions on our form requires information on blood pressure in order to give out a prescription for the pill. That can be measured at a cost of €1-2 at your local chemist."
Meanwhile spokesperson for the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) Chris Goodey predicts 'telly medicine' will be "widespread" within a few years.
But he warned that it should be approached with caution and only used as an 'add-on' to the service a traditional GP provides.
News of the online GP service comes after Dr Rhona Mahony, the Master of the National Maternity Hospital, last week spoke about how technological developments will transform medicine.
Speaking after she attended an international medical conference in Boston recently, Dr Mahony said: "Your iPhone will do a lot of your medicine for you."
"Instead of a colonoscopy, you'll just swallow the iPill and you'll send the photographs to your phone and you know, 'Does my colon look big in this?' - what a selfie that will be. So it will be very different," she said.
"I think it's going to be a real case of it getting very personal."