Are GP video consultations the future?
Whichever way you look at it our GP system can’t cope with rising demand and there’s no quick-fix to make it better.
The stark facts are that GPs are leaving the profession in their droves and it takes around seven years to train up a new one so there isn’t a ready-made conveyor belt of replacements to step into their shoes.
The reality is the NHS is a finite resource and the conversation has moved away from waving a fictional magic wand to being more pragmatic and working differently to maximise the finite resources better.
A recent report by the King’s Fund, Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation concluded that the shortfall of GPs can never be filled so some patients will have to be seen by other staff, including pharmacists and physiotherapists.
Against this backdrop more focus has fallen on the role technology has to play. For a fee people have been able to see a doctor through digital platforms like Babylon Health and Push Doctor at a time that’s convenient for them.
Now some general practices are offering limited video consultations and one of the things we do at Redmoor Health is handhold GPs through the process of providing that service.
We can work with them to explore what the existing infrastructure looks like and what we need to bring in in terms of IT investment. In addition to GP consultations, practice nurses can do asthma checks and offer wound care advice.
As well as being good for some patients, the use of video consultations can also help keep some GPs in the profession. In Lancashire and South Cumbria, we’re currently piloting an innovative digital GP Retention Programme, which supports GPs who are on reduced hours or considering retirement by providing the technology and support to run remote consultations with some patients, making it possible for them to continue working.
The programme uses a variety of tech-based video solutions including Iplato, EMIS and Xuper and is tailored to the needs of the individual practice and their patients. Some remote clinics are running in evenings and some at other parts of the day but in each instance the doctor is able to run sessions they would not have otherwise been able to achieve.
Video consultations aren’t right for every patient or every GP or practice nurse. Some people will always want face-to-face appointments but technology gives people choice.
For example an asthma patient with work or family responsibilities will need to attend regular routine asthma reviews but might find it difficult to attend a surgery during the day.
A video consultation with a practice nurse offers the perfect solution, building capacity within a busy practice and ensuring patients continue to be supported to manage their own health.