Research News

Few GP practices use technology to offer alternatives to face to face consultations

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: (Published 27 May 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i2997
  1. Ingrid Torjesen
  1. London

Few GPs offer email or video consultations as alternatives to traditional face-to-face consultations, and most had no plans to introduce them, a paper published in the British Journal of General Practice has shown.1

Questionnaires were sent to all GPs (both partners and salaried) and managers at 421 practices in and around Bristol, Oxford, Lothian, the Highlands, and the Western Isles of Scotland. These areas were chosen to ensure a range of practices were represented: urban and rural; inner city and remote; and in affluent and deprived locations. A response was received from 319 practices.

While around two thirds (211) reported that they often conducted telephone consultations, none offered internet video consultations, and only 18 (6%) offered email consultations. Most practices had no plans to offer either video consultations (86%) or email consultations (53%), despite encouragement from central government to do so. The Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund provided incentives for practices to introduce such technologies in England.2

There was also evidence that 21% of practices had previously offered email consultations, and that 10% had offered video consultations, but they had subsequently withdrawn these services.

More than a quarter (249 of 889, 28%) of respondents also provided comments. The majority described their views (usually resistance) on the idea of introducing alternative consultations, but only a few of these opinions were related to actual experience, the researchers said.

Chris Salisbury, a GP and head of the Centre for Academic Primary Care, who led the research, said, “The survey results showed that, since few people were actually using email or internet video in general practice, views about the pros and cons of alternative forms of consultation were largely speculative and based on anecdote rather than evidence. The general reluctance to adopt alternatives meant that the situation was unlikely to change soon unless general practices can see clear advantages.”

The researchers will now conduct case studies on practices that have tried alternatives to face-to-face consultations. Using observations of practice life, interviews with staff and patients, and anonymised patient records, they will explore what practices achieved, how they overcame difficulties (or not), and the advantages and disadvantages of internet based consultations for different groups of patients.

The research was part of the Alt-Con Project, funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research Programme.


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