Free telemedicine service in UK will connect patients to at-home doctors

A free virtual consultation service has been set up in the UK to link worried patients with healthcare staff in their homes to try to ease the pressure on the NHS during the COVID-19 crisis.

The telemedicine service is currently asking for volunteers among doctors, specialist nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare workers who are willing to donate some of their time to keeping the system running.

The launch comes amid reports that the 24-hour NHS 111 non-emergency helpline is struggling to keep up with the volume of information requests about coronavirus.

Last month, the government asked people who don’t require medical help or hospitalisation not to ring the service but use the Internet for information instead. is being staffed with clinicians who are “working from home, self-isolating, or between shifts”, according to its founder, accident and emergency specialist Dr DJ Hamblin-Brown.

Hamblin-Brown (pictured right) works as medical director for several hospitals in China, but as a result of travel restrictions has been based in the UK since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

He says he was surprised that telemedicine in the UK seems to be lagging behind what is available in China, and decided to take direct action to plug the gap with a service that can scale-up at speed as the outbreak deepens.

“This new service will not cost the NHS a penny,” according to Hamblin-Brown, who worked for 15 years in UK A&E before moving to China.

“By volunteering, or by using as a patient, you are freeing up NHS resource for someone who needs it.”

Crucially, this isn’t intended as a COVID-19 helpline, but as a booking service that patients can use to consult on any health issue, freeing up NHS resources. It is due to provide its first consultations later this week.

The platform includes a scheduling app, access to online conferencing (currently with Zoom) as well as note-taking functions. Clinicians can make their availability known via a public website from as little as 20 minutes at a time.

The aim is to supply 100,000 online assessments and 25,000 online appointments by mobilising over 200 at-home clinicians “as soon as possible”, says Hamblin-Brown.

Patients can book a 20-minute slot for a free consultation and both patient and professional will receive an email with a conference-call link.

Ideally, the patient will have used an artificial intelligence-driven self-assessment tool built into the platform in advance to make the process more efficient.

“This is the phrase we all hear in an emergency: is there a doctor in the house?  This is that moment,” says Hamblin-Brown in a plea to healthcare professionals to come forward and volunteer.

“The NHS is moving towards an improvement in telemedicine – but not fast enough.  We’re here to take up the slack.”


Main photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

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