Two-thirds of GP consultations conducted remotely by telephone or video

A SURVEY of 829 GPs conducted by the Royal College of GPs across the UK has found that that 61 per cent of GP appointments were conducted by telephone and four per cent online via video.

The survey taken between 9 and 22 July reported that just 11 per cent of appointments were conducted face to face and three per cent in home or care home visits.

A large majority of respondents (88 per cent) said their surgery was equipped to deliver video or e-consultations – up from five per cent before the pandemic - and that 74 per cent said they had done at least some consultations in this way.

The survey also found that 70 per cent of respondents said telephone consultations increase efficiency, while 67 per cent said video or e-consultations do so. GPs were also generally enthusiastic about the use of telephone triage, with 76 per cent of respondents saying that GP-led telephone triage increases efficiency, with similar results for non-GP triage (66 per cent) and online triage (65 per cent).

Such findings could have significant implications for healthcare in future. In a recent speech to the Royal College of Physicians London, Secretary Matt Hancock said: "From now on, all consultations should be tele-consultations unless there's a compelling clinical reason not to".

However, the RCGP has expressed some caution in regard to its findings. Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "The increase in telephone triage and consultations we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic has been out of necessity – and in line with official guidelines. That isn’t to say there aren’t lessons to be learnt from the new ways we have been working in general practice. The pandemic has shown care can be delivered effectively and safely remotely, where appropriate.

"Remote consultations, whether by telephone or video, won’t be suitable or preferable for everyone, and that certainly isn’t what the College is suggesting. We’ve already seen face to face appointments increasing, with a 40 per cent increase over the last eight weeks according to figures from our Research Surveillance Centre, while demand for telephone consultations has only risen 4 per cent. Once more normal service resumes in general practice – and we await official guidance on this – patients who want face to face appointments will be able to have them. We want patients to be able to access GP services in the way that is best for them and best meets their health needs."

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, also commented on the health secretary's speech: “The RCP has been at the forefront of arguing for using technology to transform the way in which services are provided, for the benefit of patients and the environment, but the government and the NHS must make sure that they bring everyone with them on this journey. In a recent survey, 50 per cent of our members told us that they didn’t have access to a webcam."

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