Video consultations between patients and healthcare professionals are increasing at rapid speed. Thanks to the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, many GP’s and other health care professionals began to host their patient consultations using other formats rather than face to face – the most popular options being phone calls and video calls.
This overcame the obstacles that COVID-19 presented, mainly that patients could still get the medical help and advice that they needed during the pandemic without risk of contracting or spreading the virus. However, with the spread of COVID-19 subsiding, video consultations are still on the rise, and we are going to explore the challenges and benefits that moving to video consultations can offer both patients and medical professionals.
The Benefits of Video Consultations
The move to video consultations was on the cards long before COVID-19 crashed into our lives, and in many settings, there were already trials underway. Obviously, once COVID-19 made an appearance, this move was rapidly accelerated. Prior to the pandemic, most of the general practice work was done face-to-face, but there was an obvious need to reduce the footfall into practices protecting both patients and staff. It is estimated that during the pandemic, over 90% of patient enquiries and requests were dealt with remotely – and with good success rates. It is clear now that remote consultations and the use of online systems are here to stay, and with it come many benefits that everyone can enjoy.
It goes without saying that video consultations were a key tool during the pandemic simply due to the fact that patients were staying at home whilst still receiving the medical care that they required, and in turn keeping the spread of the virus to a minimum. Now that the threat of COVID-19 has started to reduce, this method can be used in other circumstances. There will always be high-risk patients, and now they can have the best medical care possible without worrying about the risk of coming into contact with other patients – or vice versa. If someone is infectious (not necessarily COVID-19), they can have their consultation without bringing risk to themselves or others. In addition to this, patients with physical or mobility issues (someone who is bed bound or who lives somewhere extremely remote) are still able to receive care no matter where they are in the country. Video consultations have proven to reduce the number of missed appointments as well as providing economic benefits due to less missed work time.
Since the introduction of video consultations, there has been a significant and immediate reduction in the waiting times for GP contact. This generates several benefits for patients – shorter waiting times, more immediate healthcare solutions and no need to vent to the GP or receptionist, therefore saving time and money all round. Patients are more likely to get their requests solved quickly and efficiently, making both patients and staff much happier in general.
GP’s and hospitals can be an intimidating environment for some patients, and many people feel more comfortable discussing certain issues from the comfort of their own home. Home consultations (and video consultations) can be invaluable in assessing how patients react to questions when they are in their familiar home setting. It can also identify other risk factors and give insights into how patients are coping in general, for example the general tidiness and hygiene of their homes as well as spotting potential trip hazards. Although you can’t quite get a full tour of the house (unless you are concerned and ask the patient directly), video consultations can still provide a lot of contextual information that you would not get at a GP setting.
4. Improved satisfaction and efficiency
During a video consultation, you have the ability to add other professionals into the meeting, meaning that you can have a wider contribution from multi-disciplined backgrounds. Instead of patients having to wait for multiple appointments to see several different healthcare professionals, they can receive an improved quality of care by having a greater range of specialists sharing in the decision-making.
The Challenges of Video Consultations
As much as there are plenty of benefits to video consultations, it makes sense that there will also be some challenges in moving towards a total online system.
1. Not the same as face-to-face
While video consultations provide considerable value for assessing patients with non-urgent needs and can be effective in assessing common symptoms such as coughs, headaches and rashes, there is something to be said for the personal touch of a face-to-face appointment. By coming into a physical appointment, the human experience can put many people at ease and they are more likely to open up about the full extent of their symptoms. If video consultations are to continue in the future, there must be a certain group of patients that must see a physical doctor for the human interaction – such as the elderly or psychiatric patients.
2. Technology fails
Like any form of technology, video consultations have the potential for things to go wrong – WIFI connection could be poor, the connection could be lost or you simply cannot access the video call. It is also important to bear in mind that not everyone is IT literate – for example elderly people who require medical assessment or those who struggle to gain access to IT equipment. If video consultations become a permanent fixture, there will need to be an evaluation of the ease of use, as well as user friendly instructions to avoid any barriers that people may face.
3. Security and confidentiality
Whenever you are suggesting anything to do with technology, the safety of the data of the patients must always be the number one priority. This could be as simple as sending the meeting invite to the wrong patient, sending the wrong information out, or the patient not having an empty space to discuss openly with the doctor in a private setting. There is also a larger scale security risk that needs to be thought about, including cyber attacks on systems as a whole. There would need to be high security safety measures in place to ensure that everything is kept confidential and private.
Although the pandemic certainly sped up the introduction of video consultations between patients and healthcare professionals, the NHS was always working towards this end goal. While there might be a few challenges that need to be overcome, in general video consultations provide a convenient and efficient way of seeing patients and helping to improve overall satisfaction. Ultimately, if video consultations are here to stay there will need to be more tests and improvements, but on the whole, it has shown that patients are willing to adapt to new technologies and happy to learn how to optimise these to get the most out of them.