Our virtual lives: from Pokémon Go to online doctors

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These days we are all used to dodging pedestrians who are too absorbed with their smartphones to bother watching where they are going. Over the past week, you may have noticed higher numbers of such people, wandering about the streets with their heads down and eyes glued to their screens. If so, you’ve probably had your first glimpse of the new phenomenon that is “Pokémon Go”. Pokémon Go is an “augmented reality game” –an app which superimposes a game onto the real world. Players walk the streets trying to catch Pokémon characters that pop up on their screen- and they are awarded in-game candies or stardust for successful “catches”. The game tends to result in groups of players flocking to certain public places- wherever the Pokémon characters are to be found.

Anyway, as with most things in life, this new craze is not without health risks- there are already reports of physical injuries, with people getting so engrossed that they have ambled blindly into walls, ditches and oncoming traffic!  Worryingly there have also been reports of people playing the game whilst driving, and even cases where petty criminals have used it to identify or lure “muggable” targets who are so focused on the virtual world they forget to pay attention to risks in the real world!

There are, however, some potential health benefits to this new hobby- it’s fair to say that a lot of previously sedentary gamers will now take to moving about and will easily hit their “10,000 steps a day” without trying very hard! And who knows, they may end up exploring and interacting in their cities and communal urban spaces in new positive ways.

With every passing year the blurring of lines between the real and the virtual continues. Most kids now grow up with devices as standard extensions of their brain and body. This technology can allow them to ask questions, store information, entertain themselves, and constantly communicate in real time with friends (or strangers!) if they so wish. They also have the ability, from an early age, to carefully craft a particular image of themselves and to project this “avatar” to the world via social media.  And this is only the start- most people agree we are still at the very edge of what is possible with this technology.

Healthcare, just like all other aspects of life, will become more accessible in this real-meets-virtual way. In fact, the Pokémon Go generation will undoubtedly expect it to- as part of the way they live. At Dr Sicknote we are a group of real-world “traditional” family doctors- but we are also part of a virtual heath team. We now live in the devices of our patients alongside Facebook, Snapchat, and Pokémon Go! The doctor- patient relationship is such a personal thing, that the big challenge will be to provide people with the healthcare they need (and increasingly now expect), in this online virtual world. But we must also hold on to the real human connections behind these virtual interactions- and that is what we, as a team of online doctors, intend to strive for.

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