GP video consultations viable during social distancing - research

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Video consultations with GPs are a viable alternative during social distancing measures, according to research from the University of Warwick, although technical challenges and lack of resources are hindering use of the technology.

The UK institution said the findings of the research conducted and submitted before the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) outlined taht the technology could help maintain continuity of care for patients when social distancing.

The research shows patients and clinicians are receptive to consultation via video link, and are best used for routine appointments.

However experience of using video consultations in general practice is not widespread due to resource and technical challenges.

Research published in BJGP Open explored both patients’ and clinicians’ experience of video consultations in primary care, based on a systematic review of seven studies on the topic published since 2010.

In the UK, GP practices typically use web platforms similar to Skype but using secure technology that protects patient confidentiality.

This latest study found that, on the whole, evidence on patient and staff views on video consultations is mixed, with some studies showing that patients are satisfied and others that they prefer a face-to-face consultation.

But while face-to-face consultations were seen as the ‘gold standard’, particularly for chronic conditions, there was evidence that video consultations still allow patients to build rapport with their GP and would be viewed most favourably for routine appointments.

Clinicians were shown to have more variable views on video consultations, with their feelings about using it dependent on what it was being used for and who with, and with concerns about those people who may not be able to access.

In order to use video consultation, patients require an internet enabled device such as a smartphone, tablet or computer.

There were also concerns that not having to have access to the internet or such devices would disadvantage some patients who are not as ‘digitally literate’.

Corresponding author Dr Helen Atherton of Warwick Medical School said: “Remote consulting has already become a necessity in the current climate, and video is one of the options for delivering this.

“It is likely that telephone consultations will become the default option for most practices because they are already well established ways to consult.

“But where practices can deliver video consultations, or arrange a video consultation set up, the current crisis has quickly become a stimulus to do this, and the longer it goes on for, the greater the need to be able to see patients as well as talk to them.”