Before the Covid-19 pandemic online doctor were a popular way for patients to access healthcare services. They were particularly useful for people who found it difficult to travel to clinics, or who had mobility problems that made it impossible or uncomfortable to do so.
However, with the increase in the use of virtual consultations the question of whether they are good for the patient and the health system has arisen. This article sets out to explore the strengths and limitations of virtual consultations in different settings.
They are good for the patient
When a patient can consult with a doctor without having to travel, it is a great benefit for them. They can save time and money as well.
They can avoid the inconvenience of travelling to the clinic or hospital and the cost of a taxi, train or bus ride. They can also access a doctor at any time of the day or night as long as they have an internet connection.
However, virtual consultations are not suitable for all patients. They are not always safe or effective.
Despite their potential for improving access to care, there are significant technical and organizational challenges to introducing and embedding remote video consultation services into routine practice in the NHS. They are a limited way of delivering primary care for a small proportion of clinic workloads and require considerable resources to roll out (and scale-up) across a large organization.
They are good for the doctor
Online doctor consultations save you time by reducing the amount of time you spend travelling to the clinic. They also eliminate waiting rooms and check-in procedures.
They reduce the risk of infection because you aren’t traveling to an area with a lot of sick people. This is especially true if you have an immune system that’s compromised.
A good virtual consultation will make use of high-quality video. This means that you can easily see and hear your patient, which helps to maintain eye contact and encourages active conversation.
You should make sure that the video quality and call quality are high, and that the connection is stable to avoid interruptions. This is important because a poor Internet connection can make it difficult for the patient to hear and see you.
It’s a good idea to share an agenda with your patients prior to the consultation. This will help them to prepare for the meeting, and ensure that they ask the right questions.
They are good for the practice
Four months ago, the idea of doing a medical consultation over video seemed pretty outlandish. However, with the spread of COVID-19, virtual consultations are becoming a more prevalent option for many practices.
There is a strong policy push and industry interest to utilize digital technologies and introduce alternatives to face-to-face consultations, but the reality of embedding such services in busy NHS acute trusts is far more complex and expensive than anticipated.
This study aimed to define good practice and inform its implementation in relation to remote video consultations via Skype (Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, WA, USA) and similar technologies. We conducted a multilevel mixed-methods study of three contrasting clinical settings in an NHS acute trust.
They are good for the health system
Virtual consultations offer a range of benefits to both patients and the health system. For instance, they can reduce travel time and cost (especially for people living in rural areas), and improve patient engagement by reducing the need for face-to-face meetings.
However, they can also present challenges for clinicians and patients. For example, if the virtual consultation involves sharing bad news about the patient’s health, this can be emotional.
Therefore, it is important to understand how to design virtual consultations so that they are effective and safe for all parties involved. This will require the use of an ethical framework and clinical judgment to determine which patients are eligible for participation.