The coronavirus pandemic has spawned many ‘new normals’ – not least a marked increase in the use of virtual GP services, with more and more people seeking a diagnosis over the phone or via a virtual GP application.
In March this year, shortly after Covid-19 broke out in earnest in the UK, calls to the NHS 111 hotline rose by 143,006 per month compared to the same time last year, while NHS 111 online saw its average of 10,000 users a day increase to a daily average of 548,245.
There has also been a sharp rise in people accessing virtual GP services via an app, either privately or for free if the app qualifies for NHS funding, since the pandemic took hold.
These apps usually allow users to type in their symptoms which triggers an AI-driven triage system, using coding to identify what the patient’s problem is. The app then tells the user if they need to book a virtual appointment with a GP.
In some ways such virtual consultations are clearly beneficial. They conveniently allow users to contact a doctor from their own home without having to trek to a doctor’s surgery which can be particularly important for those who are vulnerable or self-isolating during the pandemic. Since most applications keep an audio recording of the consultation, they increase transparency; patients can also be given greater access to their clinical notes via their smartphone.
However, these virtual GP encounters are not without risk as Richard Penn, a solicitor in the medical negligence team at the Negligence Claimline explains.
‘Clearly, a virtual consultation does not allow for the usual rapport between the patient and doctor that a face-to-face meeting brings, and this lack of rapport can increase the risk of patients not communicating their symptoms properly to the doctor.’
Virtual GP appointments also do not allow doctors to carry out basic checks, such as taking a patient’s temperature, pulse or blood pressure, meaning that vital information about a patient’s condition could be missed and the ability to measure any subsequent deterioration lost.
These shortfalls in the virtual GP experience could, in turn, lead to a misdiagnosis or even a missed diagnosis. This is particularly so if a patient is suffering from something seemingly innocuous, like back pain, which could be anything from a pulled muscle to a serious medical condition like cauda equina syndrome, which if untreated can lead to paraplegia.
These apps are a new phenomenon so questions such as who would be liable in the case of a misdiagnosis? Would it be the app provider, the triage’s software developer, or the GP? Or whether virtual NHS GPs benefit from the government-funded indemnity cover, have yet to be tested in the courts.
How we can help
If you feel you have been let down by your virtual GP experience and have suffered as a result you should seek legal advice as soon as possible.
Our team of medical negligence experts can quickly assess whether you have a valid claim for compensation. They will talk you through your options and help you to gather the evidence you need to bring a successful claim.
They will try and negotiate an out of court settlement for you, or accompany you to court to speak on your behalf if required.
The compensation you receive depends on how serious your injury is and how it has affected your life, but could include damages for:
- pain and suffering;
- loss of earnings;
- additional medical treatment or rehabilitation;
- out-of-pocket expenses; and
- adaptations required to your home.
Contact us today for a confidential discussion with one of our specialist medical negligence solicitors on 01245 253214 or email [email protected]