A few years ago, I worked as a family physician in the UK. We had a system where due to there being no appointments available we would ring a patient on the phone to determine how unwell they were and prioritise an appointment accordingly. It was an awful system but the NHS did not have the capacity to meet the needs of the community.
People would ring and say they had a cough for a few days, a fever, and they were coughing up mucus that was yellow in colour. They also felt a bit short of breath. So, I ask you budding doctors, is this patient sick? The answer is I don’t know.
In this situation you would use all of your skill to work out how unwell they are. Did they sound wheezy? Could they complete a full sentence on the phone? With as much information you would try and make a safe decision as to when you should see this patient. What we really needed however was some objective information.
With the right tools available to the patient, it would enable a much safer consultation. If the patient said he had a temperature of 38.9 degrees Celsius that he measured on his thermometer, oxygen levels of 93% on room air and a pulse rate of 120 measured on his pulse oximeter, I would be seriously worried. If his blood pressure was 90/60 and if I could listen to his chest with his digital stethoscope and hear that he had noises indicative of a pneumonia, then I would be sending this man to hospital. All this equipment is freely available and relatively cheap to purchase.
But I hear you say, I don’t live in the UK so I don’t need this equipment! The point is with the right tools, healthcare can become safe and accessible. You can access a doctor where and when you want to online (Telehealth) and they can do a safe and thorough assessment of your health remotely. The doctor needs certain information and if you can give it to them, they can make a safe decision. Don’t get me wrong, Telehealth will never replace seeing a doctor but I strongly believe it will become part of the journey when you are feeling unwell. So when you have that cough and are worried about it being something serious, you get online and obtain an opinion from a doctor who then has the information to reassure you or investigate things further.
So looking at your current first aid kit, it would probably contain some plasters, antiseptics and pain relief. Now it should contain:
Having tools like the above can be vital in determining how unwell you are. I would argue these 6 things would be your basic first aid kit but I also have a colleague who is in his late 60’s and has a defibrillator at home. This is a machine that can shock your heart if your heart stops working. (They are found in most public spaces such as shops or airports and are very easy to use but are rarely found at home). He doesn’t have a heart problem but has it at home just in case. It is expensive but it could save his life. I am not suggesting we all do this but we should now be thinking outside the box about how to look after our health with the technology that is now available to us.
Blog post written by Dr Khurram Akhter.
Khurram is an experienced primary care physician and a thought leader in the field of digital health.