Using video consultations can improve access to a GP and save both patients and doctors time and money, according to new research from Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Imperial College London.
The project will be presented at the International Forum on Quality & Safety in Healthcare in Kuala-Lumpur, 24 - 26 August 2017.
The researchers hope their findings will encourage other general practices to use video consultations alongside conventional face-to-face appointments.
Current challenges in the UK medical workforce can make accessing a GP in a timely manner difficult. The estimated total number of consultations in England rose from 224.5 million in 1995/1996 to 303.9 million in 2008/2009 - and some surveys suggest an average wait of two weeks for an appointment.
Given these challenges, a video consultation trial clinic was set up in two busy London practices of 9,800 patients.
One GP took part in two video clinics a week for 23 months to see the effect on access and ability to work in parallel or possibly replace conventional face-to-face appointments. Outcome measures and patient feedback were monitored.
Initial concerns by clinicians included security measures and governance, whilst fear of lack of examination worried some patients.
A total of 192 video consultations took place over the trial period. Only three patients did not attend their appointment compared to 576 face-to-face appointments over the same period.
Based on average costs of appointments, this is a potential cost saving of £61,884 for just these two practices. The researchers suggest that this largely positive result could be down to remote accessibility of video consultations and the reduction in travel and delays.
As a result of the trial, a regular offering of video consultations was agreed by the practices. Traditional face-to-face appointments were available to those who had more chronic or complex health needs, to ensure that patients requiring more time with GPs accessed services more 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 better triage.
“With an increase in technology usage and remote socialising being everyday norm, communicating with your doctor remotely will become mainstay of future medical practice and self-care. Evidently it has a demand,” they conclude.
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