GP video calls only offer ‘minimal’ benefits, study finds

Video calls to doctors only offer “minimal” benefits for the majority of GP work, according to a new study.

In 2017, private firm Babylon Health launched an app that allowed patients to launch video calls with a GP at any time of the day.

But current figures show that just 0.5 per cent of GP appointments in England are actually being made via video or online.

Academics from the University of Oxford interviewed 121 people, including patients and 55 GPs, to look at the possible benefits of the technology.

Some patients were quite positive about the technology, with those living in remote areas in particular praising its convenience.

But doctors found that it was “unsuited” to some of their patients, especially those with mental impairments or the elderly. Many doctors also said that telephone calls were “familiar and dependable” technology that almost everyone knows how to use.

“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,” the authors of the study wrote.

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

“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.”

Meanwhile, health secretary Sajid Javid is expected to speak to the Royal College of Physicians later today where he will announce that patients will be encouraged to contact their GPs via the NHS app instead of calling them.

Currently, the health service has a target of getting at least 75 per cent of all adults in England to be using the app by March 2024.

As well as booking appointments, the app allows patients to communicate with their surgery, see test results and get advice to manage their health and wellbeing.

“Those are the long-term challenges the NHS must adapt to: changing demographics and disease; changing technology and expectations; and unsustainable finances,” Javid is expected to say.

“Taken together, it’s clear we were always going to come to a crossroads: a point where we must choose between endlessly putting in more and more money, or reforming how we do healthcare.”

Under the plans, there will also be the rolling out of electronic records to 90 per cent of trusts by December 2023 and 80 per cent of social care providers by March 2024.

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