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Digital consultations should be taught in GP trainee curriculum, says HEE

Exclusive: Digital consultations should be included in the GP trainee curriculum according to Health Education England’s head of primary care.

In an exclusive interview with Pulse, HEE’s deputy medical director of primary and integrated care, Professor Simon Gregory, also said there was a concern around GPs working for digital providers not receving required training.

Professor Gregory said the RCGP curriculum does not distinguish between face-to-face consultations and other types, but added explicit reference to digital consultations ‘most certainly need to be in the curriculum’.

When asked about the level of interest in the digital GP model – such as Babylon GP at Hand – among trainees, Professor Gregory said: ‘If you go back to the RCGP curriculum, if you go to the first bit being a GP and the second the consultation, none of that says it has to be in a consulting room.

‘When I started out as a GP trainee, we weren’t taught about telephone consultations, many of the consultations are by telephone now.’

He added: ‘Rather than focusing on any particular provider, what I would say is that this is a disruptive innovation – and the genie is out of the bottle on this one. I now do all my banking on the app on my iPhone….. It most certainly needs to be in the curriculum.’

However Professor Gregory also suggested that newly qualified GPs who begin their careers working via online consultations would lose out on the breadth of learning that takes place during the period straight after qualifying.

He said: ‘I recognise now that when I started as a GP, I wasn’t yet fully ready. It took me a few years. My worry would be that if people go straight into online consulting, they may not have the full grounding in being a GP.

‘I would hope that we would do that [digital consultations] more and more through it being one of the modalities we offer to our patients but we also have to need to be really careful.’

He continued: ‘I initially found it tricky doing telephone consultations because I thought, “I can’t see them, I want to, you know, pick up on that gut feeling of whether the person is saying one thing but their eyes and their body language are saying another”. 

‘I think there will be a place for digital, we’ve all got to offer some form of digital consultations under the new contract.’

Although patients will be offered digital consultations as part of NHS long-term plan’s promise, NHS England analysis has shown that patients at digital GP practices are three times more likely to return to their original practice than patients switching between traditional practices.

A recent Ipsos Mori evaluation of Babylon’s NHS service said the features of the digital GP model are attracting GPs to work for Babylon GP at Hand and the NHS should look into it to ‘ease the recruitment crisis’.

However, while GP leaders have said the NHS ‘has a lot to learn’ from the model, they have criticised Babylon for cherry-picking younger, healthier patients and destabilising general practice.