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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