When I was a child, I remember staring at my family doctor, with his grey hair, tweed suit and battered leather bag, wondering how anyone could be so wise. To me, he was a god- all-seeing, all-knowing. The mysteries of the human body were not mysteries to him!
My parents were solid and sensible- I believed they could handle almost anything. So it was naturally alarming to me if they ever seemed out of their depth or worried. This rarely happened, but if it did, it usually related to the health of a family member and Dr Walsh was the man called upon in such a situation. Maybe that’s why I saw him as superhuman- he was summoned when my ever-so-capable parents ran out of ideas. And he’d arrive at our house in his old car, usually in the middle of the night, to see the feverish baby or the vomiting sister and all would be well again.
The years rolled past- I grew up and went to medical school myself. I’ve now been a doctor for over a decade- and a GP for the past 6 years. I sometimes try to imagine what the 6-year-old version of myself would say if they could see me now as a 36-year-old doctor. I certainly don’t feel superhuman or god-like! When I compare myself to my old family doctor, I can see that the role has, in some ways, not changed much, and in other ways, changed quite dramatically.
At the centre of it all, you still have that special relationship between patient and doctor- that space, where any issue can be discussed- ranging from physical, to psychological, to sexual, to all manner of life’s challenges. I’m still regularly amazed by the fact that a person will walk in off the street to meet me for the very first time, and within seconds we may be discussing matters so personal and delicate that even their nearest and dearest are entirely unaware. Obviously, as doctors, our ability to investigate and treat disease has advanced hugely in the past 20 years, as has our knowledge and understanding of illness. And one of the most recent changes in medicine is the rise of telemedicine and the “online doctor”.
Whilst I see patients in my clinics, I also work as an online doctor. Becoming an online doctor has been one of the most interesting developments in my career to date. What has surprised me most about it, is the fact that the human connection is actually surprisingly strong. I’ll admit that when I started, I worried that it would lack the personal touch. But I have found that a conversation via a webcam is basically not very different to a face-to-face encounter. As more and more of our day-to-day lives move online, seeing an online doctor will become quite a routine occurrence. The middle-of-the-night house-call by the physician with his battered bag and tweed suit may well be replaced, at least some of the time, by a doctor on a smartphone screen! Having spent the last year consulting as an online doctor myself, I find this virtual connection can be just as warm, personable and effective. Over the coming years, I think people will learn to view the “virtual house-call” as a very convenient and helpful element of healthcare for their families.