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Is telemedicine the future for GP surgeries?

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone in the UK has had to embrace new ways of working. New and stricter safety and cleaning measures have been adopted in all workplaces, PPE equipment is now common-place, and most people who could, have worked from home, with virtual meetings fast becoming the norm.

The shift to digital working has also had to be adopted by GP surgeries, who were told at the beginning of lockdown to replace their usual face-to-face appointments with telephone or video consultations.

So far, this new way of assessing patients has appeared to work well and help relieve the burden on the NHS during this crucial time. NHS Digital Data has shown that in March 2020 there were 2,153,988 face-to-face appointments, in March 2019 there were 4,851,606.

As the UK starts to embrace its ‘new normal’, one of the many changes we can expect to see, is that telemedicine will play a key role in healthcare going forward, as the benefits are undeniable.

Positives of telemedicine:

  • Reduce the risk of patients and GP’s transmitting coronavirus or other viruses
  • GPs can triage quickly and get patients the treatment(s) they need
  • More convenient (there is no need to take time away from work or school)
  • Time saving, with little need to queue on the phone from 8am to book an appointment
  • Increase the number of daily appointments that a GP can take
  • Able to treat patients who cannot attend appointments in person
  • Reduce costs (virtual appointments are often shorter than face-to-face appointments)

However, there are concerns that the introduction of digital appointments could prove problematic when it comes to assessing all patients, patient confidentiality, regulations, and professional standards.

Negatives of telemedicine:

  • There is a risk with this kind of appointment, that many symptoms and illnesses may go undetected, which could lead to a delay in diagnosis, treatment, and a worsening of the condition
  • IT glitches may delay appointments significantly
  • Confidentiality issues, there must be sufficient IT protection to protect records and personal information
  • Threats from ‘cyber attacks’
  • Virtual appointments are unlikely to work for older and vulnerable patients 

Telemedicine after COVID-19

In response to the use of telemedicine, Health Secretary, Matt Hancock has said that the NHS ‘must not lose’ the digital advances that have been made during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is apparent, is that investments must be made in this area, to ensure the safest and most sophisticated technologies are used. Earlier this month, one patient was shown videos of another patients’ GP appointments when using the Babylon Health App, which offers live streamed consultations and electronic prescriptions. The article can be viewed here.

Patients must also be made aware of its limitations and should be offered a face-to-face appointment if they prefer. GPs and other health professionals should also take significant care when documenting the appointment, with all records accounted for. Health professionals should also be as certain as they can be, that the patient has clearly understood the information that they have been presented with, and where necessary, the next steps in their treatment plan.

 

As we slowly emerge from lockdown, there are still restrictions in place, and patients are being urged to only contact their GP, attend A&E or dial 999 if it necessary. However, it is vital that if you think you need a face-to-face appointment, that you contact your GP surgery.

If you or a loved one are seriously ill or injured, or life is at risk, you must dial 999 immediately.

There are growing concerns that many people are delaying seeking medical advice during the pandemic for fear of catching coronavirus. During the pandemic thousands of women have had their smear tests postponed, and fewer people suffering the symptoms of a stroke or heart attack have dialled 999.

 

We can be contacted either via email: info@m-j-p.co.uk, or on the phone: 01603 877000.

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