Webcam and telephone appointments with GPs are leaving patients dissatisfied while increasing doctors’ workloads, research shows.
GPs have been encouraged to carry out more online consultations in an attempt to free them up to see the most seriously ill patients face-to-face and drive down waiting times.
But research by Bristol, Warwick and Oxford universities found webcam consultations often fail because internet connections are slow or the picture is fuzzy.
This means doctors have to do telephone appointments instead, but these often take longer than face-to-face consultations and patients report being dissatisfied.
Webcam and telephone appointments with GPs are leaving patients dissatisfied while increasing doctors’ workloads, research shows
The research concluded that the measures had been poorly thought through.
GPs were strongly encouraged to make more use of webcam and telephone appointments in 2015 under guidelines issued by NHS England.
Surgeries have been offered extra funding to take part in pilot projects to test the new-style consultations.
In some areas, private firms are carrying the work out for the NHS. They include Babylon Health, with 7,000 patients signed up to its ‘GP at Hand’ online service run from an NHS surgery in West London.
The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, looked at eight GP surgeries in England that had trialled webcam and telephone appointments. They covered around 85,300 patients.
Professor Chris Salisbury, from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Academic Primary Care, said: ‘Practices are introducing the technologies for different reasons and a one-size-fits-all approach will not work.
‘In particular, we identified a tension between the desire to make access to health care easier and more convenient, while at the same time aiming to reduce GP workload.
‘We found that new ways of accessing health care advice may well increase rather than decrease GP workload.’
‘Tell doctor if you’re gay’: GPs argue patients should reveal sexuality to ensure they receive ‘optimum’ care
Patients should be obliged to tell their GPs if they are gay, bisexual or transgender, doctors say.
They argue that they must have a knowledge of patients’ sexual orientation in order to provide ‘optimum’ medical care.
There is evidence that LGBT patients are more susceptible to mental health conditions, certain cancers and drug misuse.
The group of doctors from Brighton and Sussex Medical School say in the British Journal of General Practice that GPs should be willing to have ‘sensitive’ conversations with patients about their sexuality.
The NHS is preparing guidelines on the issue and from April 2019 GPs will be encouraged to record the sexuality of patients over 16.
The lead author of the study Dr Helen Atherton, from the University of Warwick, said: ‘The availability of a wider range of options for consulting could be very helpful for some patient groups but has the potential to reduce the time the doctor has available for face-to-face consultations, which could disadvantage other patients.’
NHS England said: ‘This is a tiny study based on data that is almost two years old.
‘Online consultations offer a convenient alternative to face-to-face appointments and patients are already seeing the benefits.’