Video appointments with GPs offer ‘minimal’ benefits, study finds.
Researchers at the University of Oxford have set out to examine why just 0.5% of GP appointments in England take place via video, according to the latest figures.
Dr Trisha Greenhalgh and her team found that telephone and face-to-face appointments were seen as more effective, following interviews with 121 people, including 55 GPs, some patients and other staff of general surgery.
The finding contrasts with predictions at the start of the pandemic from people like then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who said in July 2020 that there needed to be a permanent shift to “Zoom medicine” and that “the consultations should be teleconsultations unless there is a compelling clinical reason not to do so”.
The study authors wrote that “the relative benefit of video was perceived to be minimal for most general practice cases, as many presented problems could be adequately and safely triaged by telephone and in-person assessment. was deemed necessary for the rest”.
Although some patients found the video appointments convenient, appropriate and reassuring, others preferred the face-to-face appointments, they said.
The technology has “sometimes” helped patients in the countryside, in nursing homes and those who needed out-of-hours care – but even then its use was not always seen as appropriate.
Doctors thought some of their patients were “unsuitable” for using video technology, including some very old people and those with cognitive impairment.
The phone has been described as more “familiar and reliable” technology that most people know how to use.
Where it was not considered safe or appropriate, many GPs said they preferred to see patients in person rather than using video.
Doctors also worried that their close personal relationship with patients would be lost on video.
The researchers concluded that efforts to introduce video consultations into general practice should focus on situations where they have “a clear relative advantage” – for example, where patients or doctors prefer them, in remote areas for out-of-hours services and in nursing homes. .