A quick chat with… an app developing GP

Today, we sit down for a quick chat with Dr Knut Schroeder – a GP working on several interesting apps.

How will the future of healthcare be shaped by technology and apps?

I believe technology will play an increasing role for providing healthcare in the future – though I think the face-to-face consultation should continue to be the centre of what we do as GPs. Apps can be useful to support self-care and make it easy for people to access health information that helps them make decisions. It is important though that any technical innovations introduced to the NHS are carefully developed and evaluated, to avoid wasting money and resources. Improving patient care and making it more effective should always be the key driver.

How did your journey with app development start?

When I asked students how they access health information, some said they’d ask their friends or googled their symptoms – often leaving them confused, worried and unable to make an informed decision. So, I was wondering what we could do to make it really easy for students to access reliable, clear and relevant health information on the go.

When we talked with students about writing a book with such health information for them, they said they wouldn’t want this. Instead, they asked us whether we could perhaps create an app, which they felt would be much more useful because they’d have the information with them all the time – easily and quickly accessible through their mobile phones. So we put together a project team including over 25 students and a panel of student health experts and started working on the app (called ‘ESC Student‘). To develop the app, I set up a social enterprise called ‘Expert Self Care‘ and obtained NHS Information Standard certification for us as an organisation. We’ve just launched our second app – a self-harm support app called ‘distrACT‘ – and have various other app ideas in the pipeline, including a new ‘Student Wellbeing App’ and an app to support international students.

What got you interested in apps for these particular topics?

Working as an academic and a GP looking after a student population, I learnt that students can sometimes find it hard to look after their own health. Making sense of health symptoms, spotting the danger signs and knowing what to do next can be a real challenge for young people, especially those who have just left home. I got particularly interested in self-harm because of statistics I’ve read. For example, an estimated 1 in 7 young people in the UK say they’ve self-harmed at some point – and there are an estimated 25,000 people in Bristol alone who self-harm. And when I worked as a locum GP at Student Health, 4 out of 24 student patients came for problems to do with self-harm or suicidal ideas.

Are you still a practicing GP as well?

Yes. Although I resigned as a GP Principal in 2015, I continue to work as a GP locum, doing 2 to 4 sessions every week on average.

How does it all fit in?

When I was a GP Partner, I always worked part-time (6 sessions a week), which allowed me to follow other interests, such as writing books and creating apps. To be able to work more flexibly, I stepped back from my partnership to become a sessional locum GP, which suits me well.

Which other areas of medicine will benefit from apps in the future?

Most clinical areas may benefit, such as minor ailments (coughs, colds, common skin conditions), long-term conditions (e.g. diabetes, asthma, cancer care) and social support (e.g. sign-posting). Technology can play a great role in supporting self-care overall.

Dr Knut Schroeder MD PhD MRCP FRCGP -Founder & Managing Director, Lead Editor of Expert Self Care.

Knut has over 20 years’ experience as a GP and is passionate about making ‘need-to-know’ health information easily accessible.

He was a GP Partner, Quality Lead and GP Trainer at the Concord Medical Centre in Bristol for 10 years until August 2015 and continues to work as a sessional GP in the UK NHS.

Knut is also Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer in General Practice at the University of Bristol, a Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners, and a Board Member of the UK Self Care Forum.

He is author of four books, including Diagnosing Your Health Symptoms For Dummies, and has had academic papers published in major journals.

Learn more about him via his LinkedIn profile.

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