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One in three patients do not need face-to-face appointments, says minister

One in three patients do not need a face-to-face appointment with their GP, according to health minister Dr Dan Poulter.

Speaking at a Westminster debate last week, Dr Poulter called on the NHS to ‘better utilise’ modern technology which could see patients being seen by doctors over a computer screen, rather than ‘face-to-face’.

‘There are many examples of simple things that can be done, such as having a doctor or nurse talk to a patient on the phone when they call to book an appointment or as an initial assessment.  About one third of patients do not necessarily need a face-to-face GP appointment,’ he said. 

‘Such conversations can reassure callers that they are okay and not that unwell, and that perhaps they should see how things go overnight or later in the day and call back if they need further help. They also help the patient access health care in the most appropriate way, as the GP triages the patient remotely.’ 

However, he later issued a statement adding that ‘patients who are unwell and need to see their GP will still always have quality face-to-face time with them’.

He added: ‘The Government also recognises that not everyone, particularly frail older people, will have easy access to the internet.’ 

Dr Poulter claimed that a technological revolution would save the NHS £2.9bn ‘almost immediately’.

‘We need to harness and better utilise more modern types of technology such as telehealth and mobile technology to support people better in their own homes and to drive down the cost of care.’

Earlier this year the DH published a report ‘Digital First’, which suggested that community nurses should be given iPads when working in rural areas and that GPs should make more use of Skype video calling with patients.