- Industry Insights
- 3 mins read
During the pandemic, only 10% of GP appointments were face-to-face. In February 2023, 70.7% were in-person. We’re back to face-to-face appointments as the default option, but it’s worth asking whether that’s the best policy for patients and surgeries.
The new GP contract puts patient access at its heart, and remote care has the potential to hugely improve access for all patients. Though it’s also important to remember that there’s controversy about the safety of remote care, and it’s certainly not a silver bullet.
Here is the potential that remote care has for GP practices, the ways that practice managers can best introduce and manage it, and the limitations remote care has.
The benefits of remote care
In the same way that the pandemic highlighted the possibility of remote work for many sectors, it also revealed that primary care doesn’t always need to be in-person.
Remote care during lockdowns was mandated by the state, to slow the viral spread and to protect vulnerable patients who were shielding. Considering many patients have mobility challenges that mean travelling requires a substantial effort, remote care could be a long-term solution that suits them well. Similarly, those who have care commitments may find the journey to the surgery to be difficult.
The option of remote care could be far more inclusive of those who struggle to reach in-person appointments.
Delays are a daily reality for GP practices. Late-running appointments are always going to happen, but remote appointments could mitigate that. Removing the need to travel means there are fewer delayed patients. It also means that patients don’t need to physically enter and leave appointment rooms, which may seem like small amounts of time, but they do quickly add up.
The pandemic wasn’t the only time to avoid disease transmission. Much as it makes sense to bring unwell patients to a medical setting, there’s an obvious drawback to collecting a potential cocktail of bacterial and viral infections into a waiting room. When patients can stay at home, you reduce the risk.
The limitations of remote care
For all their benefits, there are things to bear in mind when considering remote appointments.
For plenty of ailments, a phone or video assessment is perfectly sufficient, but surgeries should carefully consider whether a follow-up appointment should be in person. Cases like that of the student David Nash make the public and press wary of remote care, and surgeries can reassure their patients by bringing appointments into the surgery where necessary.
There’s also a risk of missing important subtleties. A remote appointment will make it harder to communicate and to pick up non-verbal cues, and any visual symptoms that a GP should notice. In fact, 60% GPs think remote consultations are better for following up with existing patients than treating new patients.
According to the Royal College of General Practitioners:
Remote care is an extremely useful tool, but like any tool, misusing it makes it ineffective. It might be best used strategically, not as a default.
Building a remote care strategy
Here are some basic principles for building a remote care strategy.
Offer it, don’t impose it
Those who may physically struggle to attend in-person appointments may appreciate the option of a remote consultation, as would many who simply have busy professional lives. It could be wise to be patient-led — allow the patient to choose the appointment type they’re comfortable with.
Offer remote care on a case-by-case basis
If you train medical receptionists with skills to know what to ask and what to look out for, they can make an early assessment based on why the patient is seeking an appointment. A remote appointment may or may not be the best option.
94% of GPs felt they needed better digital technology to get the most out of remote consultations. As the new GP Contract points out, soon only cloud-based phones will be supported, so many practices will have to upgrade their communication systems. You may need to spend some money on effective, reliable, and accessible software to support remote appointments, but the upgrades could very easily pay for themselves in efficiency.
No matter how you run your appointments, the fundamental decider of the patient experience is having a well-staffed surgery, full of GPs who fit the practice perfectly.
How can you make sure you have that? By partnering with a talent specialist who champions healthcare providers and offers a wide network of GPs looking for permanent and locum roles.
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