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Londoners: Ready to swap your GP for an NHS vid doc app?

Hello, hello? No I said a pain in my... Hello?

Londoners are being given the choice of putting their health in the hands of their internet connection, via a 24/7 app-based NHS service which will allow them to have consultations with doctors over video call.

The GP at Hand service has been rolled out for 3.5 million eligible in the UK capital.

It uses a platform operated by health app maker Babylon, and offers an "interactive symptom checker" that performs "triage" as well as health tracking and prescription services for its user.

The application made in partnership with five central London GP surgeries, and offers switching back to the user's original GP if they are unsatisfied with the service.

However, some GPs have doubts about the app.

Dr Margaret McCartney, GP, who is a frequent contributor for BMJ, told The Reg: "I am deeply concerned about the process Babylon have used to test their symptom checker app. They initially said they had done an independent study of safety... Many doctors have raised concerns about it.

She claimed: "The pilot result has not been released and despite asking for months for details about it none have been forthcoming. The NHS are now allowing this company to operate as an NHS GP practice."

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, told us: "We are also concerned that patients are being given the option of switching back to their local surgery if they are not satisfied with the level of service offered by the app.

"As well as issues with patient confidentiality and the safety of the patient record, it is hard to see how this could be achieved without adding to the huge burden of red tape that GPs are already grappling with."

Dr Neil Bhatia claimed that GP at Hand's potential patients are those "least likely to need to make contact with GP services in the first place", referring to the many conditions excluded from registering, such as pregnancy, mental illness and "complex physical, psychological and social needs".

Two of Babylon's backers, Demis Hassabis and Mustafa Suleyman, are among the founders of Brit AI startup Deepmind, since acquired by Google.

Its website states that patients' "paper records will be sent to your new practice (run by GP at Hand) and your electronic record continues to be safely held in the NHS IT system", while its privacy policy also includes this: "If Babylon Healthcare Services Limited or substantially all of its assets are acquired by a third party, personal data held by Babylon about its customers will be one of the transferred assets."

The Register has asked Babylon for comment. ®

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