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Use video consultations to boost access for patients, GPs urged

Valuable addition for saving time and money, and improving patient experience

Caroline White

Friday, 25 August 2017

GPs should make better use of video consultations because they can boost patient access and save time and money for both patients and doctors, concludes preliminary research* presented at this year’s International Forum on Quality & Safety in Healthcare in Kuala Lumpur (24-26 August).

Current challenges in the UK medical workforce are well known, making accessing a GP in a timely manner difficult, say the researchers from Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Imperial College London.

The estimated total number of consultations in England rose from 224.5 million in 1995-6 to 303.9 million in 2008-9, with an average wait for a GP appointment of two weeks in some parts of the country.

In light of these difficulties, the researchers set up a trial video consultation clinic in two busy London general practices, with lists of nearly 10,000 patients.

Twice weekly video clinics were set up for 23 months to gauge the impact on patient access and to assess whether these could work alongside or possibly replace conventional face-to-face appointments.

Initial doctor concerns included security and governance issues, while the absence of a physical examination worried some patients.

In all, 192 video consultations took place over the trial period. Only three patients didn’t attend their appointment compared with 576 no shows for face-to-face appointments over the same period.

Based on average appointment costs, this is a potential cost saving of £61,884 for just these two practices. The researchers suggest that remote accessibility of video consultations and the reduction in travel time and delays might explain the findings.

The trial results prompted the practices to regularly offer video consultations. Traditional face-to-face appointments were available for patients with more long-term or complex health needs, to ensure that those needing more time with GPs accessed services appropriately.

“Clearly video consultations have a place in a health care system to improve access to primary care,” say the authors. They offer an additional visual sensory component to consulting compared to telephone appointments, enabling clinicians to make safer decisions and carry out more effective triage, they add.

“With an increase in technology usage and remote socialising being the everyday norm, communicating with your doctor remotely will become a mainstay of future medical practice and self-care,” they conclude. Evidently, the demand is there, they suggest.

Jiwari M, Majeed A, Tahir A. The doctor will see you now....online. Presentation at the International Forum on Quality & Safety in Healthcare, 2017

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