Video GP appointments offer ‘minimal’ benefit – study

Researchers examined why so few GP practices have pushed for the use of video appointments.

08 March 2022

Video appointments with family doctors offer “minimal” benefits for the majority of GP work, a new study suggests.

Researchers set out to examine why video appointments are not used more widely among family doctors.

Just 0.5% of GP appointments in England were “video/online”, according to the latest figures.

Academics led by Dr Trisha Greenhalgh from the University of Oxford interviewed 121 people, including 55 GPs, some patients and other GP surgery staff, to examine the perceived benefits of the technology.

While some patients found video consultations convenient, others preferred face-to-face appointments.

Doctors perceived some of their patients as “unsuited” to the use of video technology, including some very old people and those with cognitive impairments.

Video “sometimes” added value for patients in the countryside and for people in need of out-of-hours care, as well as in some nursing homes.

But even in these situations video appointments were not always deemed to be appropriate.

Some doctors expressed concern that the close personal relationship they have with patients could be lost through the use of video appointments.

They also described the use of the telephone as “familiar and dependable” technology that almost everyone knows how to use.

When a telephone consultation is not deemed appropriate or safe, many GPs prefer to see patients in person, rather than utilise video technology.

The authors also suggested that GP practice staff attitudes to video appointments depended on their own technical knowledge.

The authors wrote: “The relative advantage of video was perceived as minimal for most of the caseload of general practice, since many presenting problems could be sorted adequately and safely by telephone and in-person assessment was considered necessary for the remainder.

“Some patients found video appointments convenient, appropriate and reassuring, but others found a therapeutic presence was only achieved in person.”

They concluded: “Efforts to introduce video consultations in general practice should focus on situations where this has a clear relative advantage, for example, strong patient or clinician preference, remote localities, out-of-hours services, nursing homes.”

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic it was assumed that the NHS would widely adopt video appointments

Indeed in July 2020, then health secretary Matt Hancock said that there needed to be a shift towards “Zoom medicine” and that “consultations should be tele-consultations unless there’s a compelling clinical reason not to”.

But many patients expressed preference for face-to-face appointments.

The latest data on GP appointments in England, released by NHS Digital, shows that out of more than 25.5 million appointments in England just 115,725 were “video/online” in January.

Not all of these will be video consultations as some practices use online services which resemble text messages to enable patients to engage this way with doctors for non-urgent needs.

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