Virtual GP Meetings – What Could They Mean For The Future?
Advances in technology are consistently changing social engagement and interaction. This could soon have a dramatic impact on the way in which patients receive medical advice and treatment from their GPs. Virtual GP meetings could be the way forward in reducing waiting times for patients with chronic illnesses. This will have a number of benefits including alleviating stresses on emergency services and freeing up hospital beds for patients in need of more urgent care.
How do they work?
Typically, virtual GP meetings would last between 10-15 minutes. Several medical services offer virtual GP meetings already, which seek to reduce unnecessary referrals and month-long waiting lists.
Virtual GP meetings would also be able to offer patients faster access to solutions to their medical problems, as well as better access to prescriptions in out of hours’ circumstances. It is hoped virtual GP meetings would also reduce waiting times for both local communities and emergency services.
Different types of virtual GP meetings
GP at Hand
Last year, the NHS launched GP at Hand, an app that enables patients’ access to 24-hour care from a registered GP.
Currently available for patients in the Greater London area, GP at Hand seeks to reduce waiting times by connecting GPs with patients via virtual GP meetings. The app aims to provide patients with faster access to prescription medications from a facility of their choosing.
In response to NHS pharmacy cuts, one of the UK’s oldest pharmacies launched its own virtual GP surgery late last year. The virtual GP meetings trialled by Fitzwilliam Pharmacy, Cambridge, were met with a positive response from patients.
The service, MedicSpot, allows patients to contact the pharmacy by phone or visiting in person. Patients upload their details, medical history and a brief description of their symptoms to a laptop, which are then passed on to a GP.
While communicating via a video-link, the patients undertake self-examinations under the guidance of the GP, using the provided medical equipment in the MedicSpot. The GP then makes a diagnosis, while on-site pharmaceutical staff can provide any additional aid and advice for the patient.
In Ireland, a similar service has recently been trialled for heart disease patients, which drastically reduced the rate of referrals to both emergency departments and outpatient centres. The pilot programme, which included 400 patients with heart failure, saw an 80% reduction in referrals.
Under the Irish trial, virtual GP meetings saw GPs consulting with a panel of specialists. The patient does not necessarily need to be present during the virtual GP meeting, however, they are given the results soon after.
While the Irish virtual GP meetings have currently been trialled for patients with cardiovascular problems, virtual GP meetings would greatly benefit patients suffering from chronic diseases including diabetes, dementia and respiratory illnesses.
How will patients benefit?
Virtual GP meetings not only improve patient care for older people suffering from multiple chronic illnesses, for which it may be unsafe or impractical to travel to a GP, but also are beneficial to patients living in rural communities with limited transportation services.
Current waiting lists for GPs are incredibly high for such patients. Virtual GP meetings will act as an effective alternative in seeking medical care and advice. Through linking up medical services and improving communication links between GPs and consultant specialists, virtual GP meetings will also reduce the waiting times for trolleys in hospitals, as patients with less severe symptoms will gain access to the care that they need more quickly.
As well as using virtual GP meetings, patients will also have access to alternative out of hours’ services, including visiting Primary and Urgent Care Centres, or calling NHS 111 for advice on non-emergency medical issues.
How will GPs benefit?
While delivering faster patient care will be a major benefit of virtual GP meetings, they will also build stronger relationships between GPs and medical specialists. Virtual consultations will help to diminish the current divide between consultant-led specialists and GP-led practices, building stronger levels of communication within the medical community.
Overall, virtual GP meetings could have a profound effect on meeting patients’ needs. GPs are likely to have more time to dedicate to patients seeking urgent care without neglecting the needs of others. Virtual GP meetings may also alleviate undue stress on medical services and professionals, improving the wellbeing of patients and professionals alike.
If you’re a GP looking for a new challenge and interested in exploring the various out of hours options available, please get in touch for more information.