The Impact of Remote Doctor Consultations on Patients

How long is it since you’ve seen your GP? Even patients with long-standing, or chronic health conditions, are now likely to be accustomed to phone or online consultations rather than face-to-face appointments. This shift had been mooted for a while, but Coronavirus proved the catalyst for a major step change in the way GPs deliver their healthcare services.

In a speech to the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) in July 2020, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock, stated that the new way of working was one of the lessons that needed to be learnt from Covid-19. Moving forward, he suggested that all GP appointments should be handled remotely, unless the patient specifically needs to see a doctor at their surgery.

GP Reaction to Online Consultation

Throughout March and April in the UK, more than 70% of GP appointments were being conducted by phone, or online. This radical shift meant that both GPs and patients had quickly to get used to a different way of working. The LDA team spoke to a GP who saw real benefits: “It’s gives me more flexibility, and I can ‘see’ more patients”. It was noted, however, that younger patients tended to be more adept at handling digital tech, which meant older, more vulnerable patients still needed to be seen in person.

The majority of GPs recognise that phone or online consultations do offer real value to patients. For simple ‘transactional consultations’ a quick phone call is far preferable to the time spent travelling, waiting and seeing a doctor in person. There’s a resistance, though, to seeing them as a ‘cure all’. Dr Martin Brunet, a GP in Surrey, makes the case for relationship-based medicine involving patients who:

“rely on face-to-face interaction, such as those with learning difficulties or hearing impairment, or who simply feel that the trust they need to place in their GP requires being able to see them in person.”

Patients Talk About Remote Consultation

It’s not only GPs who are having to adjust their relationship to healthcare. Patients who may, in the past, have relied on their GP diagnosing health issues by ‘looking’, are now having to describe symptoms, or upload images for diagnosis. A patient we spoke to said:

“Our surgery has a link so you can upload images. I used this recently for a chronic wound and it worked well. But is does require some technical know-how to take a good image, show scale and upload it.”

Lots of patients noted the benefits of not having to take time off work to attend the doctor’s surgery. Older people, however, talked about the importance of having a relationship with their doctor:

“As an older person with lots and lots of health problems I needed help to manage phone consultations. I really wanted the reassurance of seeing my doctor, and the same doctor each time.”

GP Surgery Demographics Will Determine Approach

For GP practices with a predominantly young catchment, the way forward is clear. Face-to-face appointments will be the minority option. However, time freed up by online consultations may mean that in-person appointments could stretch beyond the customary 10 minutes. Where the surrounding demographic is older, the approach will need to take this into account. GPs are happy to recognise the benefits of remote consultations, but emphasise that they shouldn’t become the default.

About LDA Research

LDA Research was set up in 2011 by Lucy Doorbar. The close-knit, core team now works with a global network of trusted associates. LDA carries out qualitative research for medical and pharmaceutical clients, medical comms agencies, health market research agencies, management consultants and advertising agencies.

When it comes to fieldwork, the LDA Reasearch team is made up of experts in the provision of pharmaceutical and medical qualitative research. Give us a call to find out more – 01525 861436