Video hits the buffers for GP consultations

Patients are not embracing video calls with the enthusiasm anticipated by NHS England and many GPs themselves, according to new research from leading app provider askmyGP.
By Piers Ford
05:39 am
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Despite the strong push for technology development from the NHS, patient demand for video GP consultations is lagging behind the other options typically offered by digital appointment systems. This is the conclusion of the latest data from askmyGP, which reveals a much higher preference for secure messaging, telephone and face-to-face consultations.

The patient contact preference data was gathered in the first quarter of 2019 from a sample of 21 practices – a combined list of 213,000 patients. Patients requested a video consultation in just 0.1% of cases, compared with 47% for a telephone conversation, 28% for secure messaging exchange and 25% for face-to-face appointment.

Given the prioritisation of video as the main contact medium for patient/GP apps such as Babylon and LIVI, the early signs of lukewarm enthusiasm might be a sign that its appeal has been over estimated by developers and GPs themselves.

“It is a surprise, in the sense that video is so widely talked about and so much money has been put into systems whose primary way of contact and consultation is video,” said Steve Black, data analyst at askmyGP.

“It’s the case with other developers, who are essentially our competitors, and that’s one of the reasons we introduced it as an option. We’ve tried to think about why patient preference is so low – and one reason could be that if you’re contacting your GP online, you both have to be available for the video call. But if you are both messaging in your own time, it actually makes the process more efficient.”

What’s the impact?

The ability to offer appropriate appointment lengths for patients is one of the key benefits of apps such as askmyGP, according to Dr David Triska, a GP at the Witley & Milford Medical Partnership in Surrey, which has been using the system since June 2018.

Dr Triska said the low demand for video consultation has been a real surprise. “I was one of the people who encouraged askmyGP to include it because I expected it to be a popular choice, but at the moment the number of patients who use it are in single figures,” he said.

He said that other options – the ability to attach images to messages if a visual assessment is required – can be more efficient. Also, if someone is making an appointment at work, they probably won’t want to whip their phone out for a video consultation in the office - or be seen in their pyjamas if they are calling the surgery from home.

The most common use has been by parents with a child who they think has a minor illness and just wants the doctor to take a quick look for reassurance. The GP can then escalate the case if they think it requires a physical consultation.

What’s the trend?

Steve Black said the main problem with video consultation could be that the technology is being pushed as a solution to the generic problem of poor patient/GP relationships caused by the scarcity of appointments. In the long run, it will be most effective where it is introduced to solve a specific challenge.

“We have recently introduced the ability for patients to scan picture and attach them to message, and it’s been much more popular than video – although we don’t yet have the data to support this, he said. “It solves a real problem because the GP can make a better decision about how to proceed.”

On the record

“We thought people wanted video itself. But when it is being offered alongside other options – messaging, phone and face-to-face – and people just want to see the doctor, they might reasonably ask, why do I need a video call when I can just come in to the surgery?” said Dr Triska.

“The main thing for us is that we can offer a same-day service, and manage the speed of access for everything from routine to urgent problems more efficiently."