When will we be truly ready for video GP consultations?

As reported by Herald Scotland, a trial for video consultations in Scotland has highlighted some technical difficulties – so when will we be ready?

It’s been widely suggested that video consultations could be the ideal solution for people with chronic health conditions, those with mental health issues or simply to save time at the surgery.

However, over the years, healthcare leaders have warned that this type of service shouldn’t be rolled out across the entire UK until such a time as it can be integrated with the NHS’s own computer services.

Recently, a pilot scheme was launched in at six surgeries in the Edinburgh and Lothians region, to see how effective the Attend Anywhere platform might be for both patients and doctors.

The pilot, generally, went down well with patients, with advantages such as being able to attend the doctor’s without taking time off work, being able to avoid a long journey or avoiding the stress of agoraphobia listed.

It’s the largest trial in Scotland, to date, but the trial did highlight the downside of relying on a web-based service.

One complaint was a time lag which caused issue during conversation, causing those involved to talk over one another which “affected the consultation”.

Technical problems were also an issue. “Problems with the technology sometimes disrupted the consultation process,” said the study authors.

“A number of VCs had to be transferred to telephone because of these disruptions.

“Clinicians reported feeling awkward when issues such as the video freezing on their or the patient’s screen or poor audibility occurred.”

Because of this, doctor said they would also be unwilling to deliver bad news or discuss sensitive issues via video.

One clinician quoted in the study anonymously said: “When holding of a hand [is needed], giving of tissues, sharing the cancer diagnosis.

“You are still quite removed at the end of a video line and heaven forbid if the technology were to let you down, that would be just ghastly.”

Some patients added that, overall, not a lot of time was saved, and that being allocated an appointment still didn’t always mean they saw their doctor on time.

This research was funded by the Scottish Government’s Chief Scientist Office and led by Edinburgh University, in collaboration with the universities of Exeter and Warwick.

Professor Brian McKinstry, of the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute, said: “Our study showed that there is real potential for video-consulting particularly for conditions where a visual examination can be helpful for example when assessing people who have problems with anxiety and depression and have difficulty getting to their general practice”

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