Our 6 month experimentation with Skype.
We share our thoughts on using Skype consultations for GP consultations. Our practice first tested Skype in 2015. We did this at the time as many of our patients already had Skype and we could communicate with patients using video conferencing without the need for specialist healthcare apps.
Background in primary care in 2015
Everybody knows that primary care services across the country are under increasing pressure. 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 ageing population. But 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. These include the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund (PMCF). Central London CCG has been working on improving access for some time. Our patients are now able to see a GP within their local network of practices 8am-8pm, seven days a week.
We know that there are many 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. 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. However, 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.
GP Skype consultations in 2015
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 London where the estate is at a premium. 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. However, it was of limited success as people who needed to have a Skype appointment didn’t necessarily have a Skype account and they needed to be helped to start using the platform. Adoption was limited and we stopped this after 6 months.
GP Skype consultations in the future
In the last few years, there has been an explosion of telehealth products and services. There has been a dramatic rise in both patient and clinician uptake. More care will be transferred to telehealth or will form part of of routine healthcare. It is estimated that $250 billion of US healthcare spend could potentially be shifted to virtual or virtually-enabled care. The other interesting observation is that many healthcare organisations have moved to using Microsoft Teams for internal staff meetings. Both Skype and Teams are owned by Microsoft teams and it appears that Microsoft teams is a secure flexible way of having video consultations with patients and has added functionality such as sharing documents and integrations with other apps.
Video consultations are here to stay in some form. How we use these and which ones is still open for debate. Given that there are very many video consultation apps, there is likely to be significant consolidation in the market.
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