The world’s oldest public healthcare system is facing one of the most challenging periods in its history. Funding cuts, an ageing population and the increasing impact of lifestyle factors like obesity and high alcohol use have put the NHS under more strain than ever before. Continuous innovation is needed to ease the strain, while still ensuring that patients receive the correct level of care.
One way to ease the burden is through video consultations, giving patients greater flexibility and alleviating the need for them to leave their homes. For many patients travelling to an appointment can prove to be harmful and counterproductive, especially for those with long-term conditions. Video consultations allow them to remain in the comfort of their own home and still receive the care that they require. Negating the need for face-to-face appointments saves on both costs and GP time, which is extremely important at a time when GP resource is scarce and patient demand is ever increasing.
The idea of video or skype consultations is certainly not a new one but in the past has been met with skepticism from GPs, largely because they are not sure what it entails and are worried about the amount of time it might take up. Proper implementation can alleviate these concerns and reassure GPs of the benefits of video consultations.
With the majority of a doctor's consultation centered on a patient’s history, for many conditions a video examination is more than enough. Video consultations can also overcome a lot of the issues that doctors have faced when using telephone consultations, as they will be able to identify non-verbal communication clues, examine patients visually for important signs and recognise particularly ill looking patients.
We believe the process will be particularly effective when there is a trained healthcare assistant helping at the other end, as they will be able to relay the patient's vital signs to the doctor. This could prove to be extremely helpful in treating patients at nursing homes, for whom getting to an appointment can prove to be inconvenient and difficult without the proper support.
We also believe that it is possible for paramedics to receive advice from doctors using video consultation to assess whether admission to hospital is the most appropriate outcome. We currently run a similar service in the North East which gives paramedics the option to call a doctor for advice if appropriate.
In the UK, where 80 percent of the population has access to the internet and over 60 percent own a smart phone, most patients should be able to benefit from video consultations. To opt into the service, all a patient needs to do is download an app on their computer, tablet or smart phone and register for the service. Of course those who don’t have access to the internet or do not wish to use it would be dealt with in the normal way over the telephone.
In future, we expect video consultations to form a vital part of how healthcare is delivered in the UK. Telephone consultations may in a large part become redundant as a result but there will always be some patients who require the presence of a GP to examine them face-to-face. Video consultations have the potential to save the NHS a lot of time and money, while providing high quality care as part of a sophisticated and integrated range of options.
Barry Cooper is chief operating officer at Vocare Group, which provides urgent healthcare services to ten million patients countrywide, through urgent care centres, GP out-of-hours services, integrated urgent care centres and the NHS 111 service.
Vocare currently uses video consultations in some areas it operates in to allow nurses to access support from GPs. Once all of its staff are trained the company hopes to introduce the system throughout the country.
As featured in National Health Executive