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Few GPs planning to offer email or Skype consultations, study finds

Very few GPs are offering email or Skype-style consultations and most have no plans to introduce them in the future, a survey has revealed.

The survey, results from which were published today in the British Journal of General Practice, asked more than 400 GP practices across five diverse areas of the UK about alternatives to face-to-face consultations.

Only 6% said they used email consultations regularly - and none currently offered internet-based video consultations on programmes like Skype or FaceTime.

By contrast, around two-thirds said they regularly carried out telephone consultations.

More than half of the practices surveyed – 53% – said they had no plans to implement email consultations in the future, while the large majority – 86% – did not plan to introduce Skype or FaceTime style consultations.

The study’s authors said their findings showed that GPs remain sceptical about such alternatives, despite Government policies – such as the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund to improve GP access – promoting email and video consultations on the basis that they will save GPs time.

Lead researcher Professor Chris Salisbury, a GP and head of the Centre for Academic Primary Care at the University of Bristol, said: ‘The survey results show that, since few people are actually using email or internet video in general practice, views about the pros and cons of alternative forms of consultation are largely speculative and based on anecdote rather than evidence.

‘The general reluctance to adopt alternatives to face-to-face consultations means the situation is unlikely to change soon unless general practices can see clear advantages from introducing new ways of consulting.’

Br J Gen Pr 2014; available online 24 May

Readers' comments (13)

  • Medical indemnity is an issue,no physical presence meant its harder to defend oneself when the brown stuff hits the fan.

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  • Surprise surprise....

    Agree with above, try defending yourself... Not touching this with a barge poll.

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  • I have been offering Skype Consultations after taking due diligence, attending a programme to hear from those who have done same and offered it as part of extended hours LES. Although the request for telephone co0nsultations is ever present, there is very little demand for the Skype in our area.
    I suspect for a small target population it would be useful but not for a vast majority.
    Theoretically Skype should be better than phone as some visual clues are seen but in reality having poor quality audio and video is worse than phone consultation.
    At least in phone consultation given its long establised nature there are lots more guidance on what to do and not to do with regards to phone eg ID check which one doesn`t usually need to do on Skype (unless it is an unfamiliar patient).
    Also one will have to make note of audio visual clues or record same- which brings other issues such as third parties(family members)appearing on the screen etc etc
    I can see a rationale for same in a small selected group -young ,mobile tech-savvy patients with a limited set of problems but not for routine use at present.
    Conference calls with secondary care consultants if it ever takes off would be another potential area.

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  • The numbers of tech savvy patients is only going to steadily increase

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  • Secure asynchronous messaging with clear governance might be useful. As to Skype - video phones have been around for decades yet Skype is mostly used to call foreign relatives as most people prefer telephones.

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  • Let the private sector do this for those who want it. The rest of us are too busy doing medicine.

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  • Our school nurses recently started a text service - something to make it easier for school age people (don't actually have to be in school) to make contact.
    Started off with a couple of messages each day.
    6 months later the school nurse on for texts sits at a computer and cannot do anything else.

    There is the odd important text - so I do not want to belittle what they have done, but I think they totally underestimated the obvious increase in demand - and now they are asking for extra funding to bridge the gap.

    In all reality - a 50% step up in funding for school nurses might be possible because the baseline service cost is fairly low. Similarly it might be possible to find the extra staff needed.
    Something similar throughout primary care is just unlikely to be forthcoming from both a funding and staff numbers - so the idea doesn't have legs.

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  • Gimmickry that childish blue sky thinkers think is trendy
    Skype might have a small role
    Email is absurdly slow and lacking cues compared to telephone and is imbecilic
    PS as usual fiddling whilst Rome burns
    Too few gps simples

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  • A consultation is still a consultation . Time spent is the same for a more risky form of interview . It doesnt save time . Why bother ?

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  • On a telephone triage day I can waste 1-2 hours of the day chasing young people who have rung for advice or urgent appointment and then don't answer their mobile when I ring back. Telephone consultations seem to work well for NH and people wanting antibiotics for smelly wee and coughs - in other words all the people that don't need antibiotics! Email consultation is usually just about repeat prescription queries, and ignores the holistic assessment of the patient: BP, lifestyle, weight, exercise, chronic disease mx, other concerns etc. These modalities have made my working day busier and less efficient and turned me into a very expensive receptionist

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