, , , , ,

The health secretary has predicted that in 20 years GPs would cease to make a diagnosis.

The comments were made while speaking at a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

Quoting conversations with “LA tech gurus” he said: “You can get 300,000 biomarkers from a single drop of blood, so why would you depend on a human brain to calculate what that means when a computer can do it for you?”

His comments which were published in an article by Pulse, a GP magazine, have caught the attention of family doctors. The remarks came at a time when relations between UK doctors and the government were already frosty

Speaking to littlegreycells blog (LGC), Prof. Barbara Prainsack of King’s College London and an expert in DNA databasing and personal medicine said these predictions were “rather far fetched”.

She continued: “It is highly unlikely, and clearly highly undesirable, that algorithms will replace human doctors.”

“The human brain can filter our ‘noise’ much better than computers, and there is always something that human experience and the ‘personal touch’ brings to the table that cannot be coded into algorithms,” Prof Prainsack added.

LGC also spoke to Dr Steve Clayton a Dorset GP who has been running a family-based practice for 23 years. He said: “If one was ‘screening’ for all these things then one may identify them and provide a diagnosis before they were symptomatic. This would have great benefit if something can be done to prevent or offset any potential physical damage coming to that patient.”

He added, however: ”This blunderbuss approach of three hundred thousand biomarkers has the potential to give someone a diagnosis that they harbor and may never develop symptoms from and so create unnecessary anxiety. The medical code is above all, do no harm.”

According to Prof. Prainsack there are other serious consequences regarding liability not considered by the health secretary “Handing over diagnosis or treatment decisions to computers would be very problematic because these decision makers would not be accountable to anybody (while doctors are).”

This is supported by figures that were released in 2013 by the NHS Litigation Authority which state that legal costs have risen by 22 per cent in just one year, and almost doubled in five years.

The comments come at a time when several studies have shown GPs’ morale to be at an all time low. Dr Clayton said he sees the glass as “half full”. Although he added: “I can see that many of my colleagues who already feel beleaguered after the relentless battering that GP’s have had in the last 2 years will feel this is just about the final straw”

The public is already witnessing a candescent contract dispute between Hunt and junior doctors over hours and pay. These have so far culminated in protests and no agreement has yet been reached.

More protests are planned for the 17th October but the prospect of strikes looms.

Featured image accredited to Ted Eytan