With the recent rise in cases of COVID-19 in the UK, people experiencing symptoms are being discouraged from attending GP surgeries and medical facilities for fear of infecting the elderly and vulnerable. As the government increases their measures for lockdown to reduce the spread of the virus, telemedicine is the logical evolution so that people can still receive consultations from their GPs and observe social distancing. Telemedicine has many benefits if done correctly - we hope you’ll enjoy our tips to make telemedicine as successful and practical as possible whether you are a permanent, independent or locum GP.
How does telemedicine work?
Telemedicine is the use of technology such as phone calls or online/mobile apps to remotely receive a consultation or services from a GP or general healthcare provider. It has been a growing trend within medicine since 2018 and is expected to skyrocket over the next few months. In fact, Medical Staffing has already been supporting the COVID-19 response by deploying GPs, ANPs and UCPs and supplying the requisite technology to enable telemedicine support.
What are the benefits of telemedicine?
Besides the necessity given the current circumstances, telemedicine and telehealth services have many different benefits for both the medical professional and the patient, these include:
Better patient care for people with low-priority symptoms (like a cold) or pre-existing/debilitating illnesses
Increased access of care for people who live rurally, the physically disabled or elderly
Quicker and increased access to specialist consultations
Telemedicine is particularly good for monitoring or assessing the following:
Allergies, asthma, conjunctivitis, UTIs, back pain, rashes, hypertension, mental health, minor injuries or advice on prevention. It may not be possible to administer treatment, but medicines or remedies may be prescribed.
Telemedicine is less appropriate for the following conditions:
Any major injury, broken bones, a condition that requires a physical exam or severe symptoms. A GP will need to use their own judgement to assess the appropriateness of telemedicine on a case-by-case basis.
What clinical profiles and skills are required for telemedicine care?
General practitioners, advanced nurse practitioners and urgent care practitioners all make great telemedicine clinicians as the experience in triaging and helping patients in a healthcare environment can be easily transferred to a digital or remote environment. While a basic level of understanding of teleconferencing tools is required, the mobile and desktop platforms that enable telemedicine are easy to master and the most important considerations include a virtual ‘bedside manner’ and an ability to connect and communicate with patients remotely.
Top tips for first-rate telemedicine care:
Define the services you can offer and how to facilitate referrals
Clinicians can define a set of services that they can appropriately to handle remotely for themselves in advance. Having a clear vision of what can and cannot be achieved via telemedicine will save you time when conducting consultations.
Create a contingency plan for emergency services
Clinicians will need to have a plan for how to deal with emergency situations. If an elderly person is exhibiting much more severe symptoms than expected but is isolated due to the current government initiatives, you should have a contingency plan to get them the best care possible as quickly as possible, even if this is just a recommendation to call 999.
Make sure your surroundings are quiet and neat
To create a reassuring virtual experience, it’s a good idea for clinicians to set up an area in their offices or facilities that is neutral and neat where you will be undisturbed for the duration of the consultation.
Be open and friendly
Although the immediacy of a physical meeting has been replaced by a video call or regular call, patients will still need to feel they can trust their clinician, so being friendly and open will help facilitate this. Although one of the main incentives of telemedicine is its time-saving capabilities, patients will have a better experience if you can include some pleasantries or general conversation at the beginning of a consultation just like you would in a physical appointment.
Encourage your patients to give feedback on how they experienced your telemedicine services. This will help you see the experience from their eyes and fine-tune it for maximum capability. If a patient says they found the sound quality bad, adjust your settings or find somewhere quieter to conduct calls.
Read between the lines
Sometimes, the removal of the formality of a physical appointment can make patients less inclined to talk about the full scope of their symptoms. Sitting in a comfortable chair at home, they may not remember to mention back ache along or light sensitivity – all things that they would have been reminded of if they’d physically left the house to attend their consultation. Being able to read between the lines and ask pertinent questions will help you provide a more accurate diagnosis and course of treatment.
If you're finding it challenging to integrate telemedicine and use it to its full effect, we would be happy to offer further advice and tips. Many of the healthcare providers we work with have urgent need for telemedicine clinicians including GPs, ANPs and UCPs. If you would like to learn more about how you can support the COVID-19 efforts, please get in touch.