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Doctors' offices across the country are beginning to offer appointment bookings via TV set-top boxes and mobiles, adding to a list of network services for non-surfers or those not owning a computer.

EMIS, tech-services provider to the UK medical sector, reports that over 1,100 GP surgeries are now set up for its interactive TV and WAP services.

EMIS had already offered relatively conventional web booking setups, but the company felt it was also necessary to "reach those households across the digital divide". The idea is that there are many homes without conventional computer web access, but which do have a Sky, cable, or even Freeview box with a dial-up or broadband network connection. Similarly, it's thought that lots of wrong-side-of-the-digital-tracks people have a WAP phone.

Doc appointments at signed-up surgeries can be made, changed, or cancelled for free using the red button on the TV remote, provided the telly box has a net hookup. This is normal with Sky, common with cable, but relatively rare with Freeview kit.

Using WAP on a mobile involves no charge from the portal or the doctor, but the cell network will usually charge a varying data rate.

Sean Riddell, healthcare managing director of EMIS, said: "This is a significant milestone for GPs, practice staff, and patients. The technology is now in place to offer this free service to a far bigger audience using a range of technical platforms. We will be actively encouraging practices to switch on EMIS Access and start to realise the benefits."

Perhaps confirming certain prejudices about people who have no computer but are nonetheless willing to shell out hefty subscriptions for pay-TV packages, the EMIS release also seeks to push its other interactive government portals*.

"For instance, viewers of [interactive TV] and mobile phone users can look for a job by accessing the Jobcentre Plus database..." it says.

The language is directed not at the user, but the public-sector officials who ultimately sign EMIS' cheques.

"[Interactive TV] and mobile are now key channels for government service delivery in general, particularly to those with no internet access and limited PC skills who often have a high usage of government services."

Not much doubt who they're talking about there. If you often wear a tracksuit when you aren't doing exercise, EMIS want to hook you up to the government via the only channels they reckon you pay attention to - your telly and your non-web-capable mobile.

Could be a good idea, in general. There's one obvious problem with the doc-booking service in particular, however. A quarter of GP surgeries - disproportionately in deprived areas where Sky-loving/computer-lacking people live - won't offer advance appointments, which makes TV or mobile booking rather irrelevant. ®

*See comment by Sean Riddell, EMIS's Healthcare Managing Director.

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