Trendy new gadgets, such as Fitbit exercise monitors, personalised DNA tests and sophisticated health apps, could ‘overwhelm’ people with health data, says the Royal College of Surgeons.
This vast amount of information threatens to cause people undue alarm, triggering unnecessary visits to already-straining A&E units and GP surgeries.
The criticism is a major challenge to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has made championing technology his key priority since he started the job in July. Richard Kerr, chairman of the Royal College of Surgeons’ commission on the future of surgery, said NHS services will need to change to support patients overwhelmed by the new technology.
He said the report, due to be published later this year, will warn that while new technologies will offer better opportunities to diagnose and treat patients before their illnesses become severe, there is also the potential for them to cause patients unnecessary alarm.
Kerr, a consultant neurosurgeon in Oxford, said: ‘The “worried well” will be sent into hyperdrive.
‘GP practices and A&Es will undoubtedly see more patients who are concerned about what this information means for them. Right now, most patients see their doctor when they fall sick or unexplained symptoms prompt them to seek medical advice.
‘However, very soon there will be an immense amount of health information available to patients, whether through data recorded by personal wearable devices and sensors, or a greater understanding of our genetic predisposition to future illnesses.’
Kerr, who will present early findings of his report at the IDEAL surgical conference in Bristol today, added: ‘As health professionals, we will need to help patients navigate this proliferation of information and provide tailored support so they can understand their risk of illness, as well as their treatment options, should their concerns lead to diagnosis.’
A Norwegian study in 2016 found that those with the highest levels of ‘health anxiety’ are more than twice as likely to develop heart problems later in life.
Scientists suspect hypochondriacs put their body in a state of high alert, constantly on guard for any symptom of illness. But this constant checking and the resulting stress puts them at high risk of heart disease.