IT boost needed for remote consultations

HOSPITAL doctors are being put off using time-saving technology, such as video consultations, due to poor IT support.

That was a key factor that emerged in a member survey conducted by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) looking at new ways of caring for patients.

More than 90 per cent of doctors who responded said they hadn’t recently conducted any outpatient consultations by video, even though 70 per cent thought that at least some could be carried out in this way.

This is despite only half of respondents (53 per cent for inpatients and 55 per cent for outpatients) saying they were able to provide the level of care they were trained to. Insufficient time, lack of support from hospital management and lack of social care provision were cited as the main barriers.

The College’s Barriers to Care survey asked about alternatives to face-to-face consultations that could make more efficient use of doctors’ time as well as reducing inconvenience for patients.

Fewer than 10 per cent of respondents said they had conducted more than four per cent of their outpatient consultations by video in the last week. This is despite a fifth of doctors saying they would like to conduct 10 to 20 per cent of consultations by video.

Telephone consultations were more common, with 18 per cent saying they had conducted between 10 and 20 per cent of consultations this way.

The survey follows the RCP’s recent report Outpatients: The future which also considered alternatives to face-to-face consultations. It highlighted concerns over preserving patient confidentiality, stating that the use of digital tools "requires strict adherence to data protection strategies such as unique login and automatic logging out following inactivity, which can be frustrating."

RCP president Professor Andrew Goddard said: "One way in which the NHS can meet the rising demands placed upon it is to provide care in new and innovative ways.

"Given the pressures they are under and, in many cases, the poor IT infrastructure they have to work with, it isn’t altogether surprising that more doctors aren’t already conducting consultations using video and other technological solutions."

He added that there was "enthusiasm for change" and said the RCP would continue to work with NHS England to transform services.

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