This article shares the experience of Cavendish Medical Centre, North West London.
Why Skype, why now?
It is well known that primary care services across the country are under increasing pressure to provide more responsive, flexible and accessible services to patients. This is due to the general increase in demand, for example, due to the aging population, and also the firm commitment to make general practice the centre of care for all patients, especially those who are most vulnerable.
Recognising this, the Government has confirmed its support for increasing access to high quality primary care services through a number of initiatives, including the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund (PMCF). Central London CCG has been working on improving access for some time and our patients are now able to see a GP within their local network of practices 8am-8pm, seven days a week. This will help many patients see a GP when they may not have been able to before, but we also know that there are many other reasons why people find it difficult to physically get to their GP practice. For example, some people find it difficult to visit their practice due to work commitments. Others have to rely on friends and family for transport due to mobility problems or frailty, and some have to bring the whole family with them due to difficulties in arranging childcare. Sometimes this means that people may not get the help they need.
Telephone consultations with GPs have been available for a number of years, but GPs often say that being able to see their patients greatly improves their ability to diagnose and advise. The widespread availability of personal video conferencing technologies on mobile devices and in people’s homes means that more extensive use of visual consultations should be possible.
Skype video calls are one way of doing this and may have real benefits for patients in allowing access to their GPs that is more convenient, offers a better clinical service and makes the best use of time.
There are also potentially great benefits for GPs themselves in being able to provide consultations remotely from their practices. This can help to alleviate pressure on limited consulting room space (which is a particular problem in central London where estate is at a premium) as GPs can see their patients from any private location. This can also offer a flexible way for GPs to work that can fit around their family life or other commitments.