Medical appointments look quite different during the coronavirus pandemic. If you need to see your GP at the moment, you may well be offered a telephone or video consultation rather than a face-to-face meeting.
These remote ways of seeing a clinician help to prevent transmission of the coronavirus by reducing the need for patients to travel to healthcare settings such as GP surgeries and hospitals. Virtual appointments allow doctors to speak to patients who aren’t able to travel (such as those shielding, in self-isolation or facing transport difficulties).
In 2019, the vast majority of GP appointments were delivered in person, but at the moment 70% of GP care is being delivered remotely according to the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).
GPs have also been told to conduct remote weekly check-ins with care home residents as a part of the NHS response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Find out more: What you need to know if a relative is in a care home
Now that GP practices and many patients have familiarised themselves with the technology, it′s likely that telephone and video appointments will be here to stay long after the current crisis has passed. But not everyone feels comfortable with this new way of accessing medical help.
Fewer than a quarter of people who have a relative over the age of 70 believe their loved one would be willing try a video call with a GP according to a poll of 1,000 people from BT Skills for Tomorrow. While charity Age UK has warned that older people (particularly those with cognitive impairment or hearing problems) may struggle with phone and video appointments.
‘It’s likely that telephone and video appointments will be here to stay long after the current crisis has passed.’
The advantages of video appointments
Online consultations do have some advantages over face-to-face appointments such as no travel time to and from the surgery. And because virtual consultations often take far less time than in-person appointments, more patients can be assessed in a day’s surgery. You’re more likely to get an appointment sooner too.
Some older people already use technology to keep track of their health. Telehealth solutions that monitor body activity such as heart rate and blood sugar allow medical professionals to remotely monitor your condition and manage your treatment, without you needing to leave your home. Telehealth services are increasingly being set up at GP practices to support people with long-term health conditions.
- Find out more: how telehealth works and whether it may be suitable for you
How to prepare for a video consultation
The good news is that if you’ve been conducting video calls with your relatives during the pandemic, you already have all the tech you need for a virtual GP appointment to work. If you have a device such as a laptop or mobile phone with a camera and a microphone – with access to the internet – you’re ready to go.
‘We shouldn’t assume that all older people need help setting up remote consultations – many are just as tech savvy as younger generations,’ says Dr Jonathan Leach, honorary secretary of the RCGP.
You shouldn’t need to download any software or update your computer. Typically, surgeries will text or email you a link to click on when it’s time for your appointment.
‘Ensuring there is a quiet and private space available, that any necessary technology is working, has a good connection to 4G or broadband and good battery capacity, are all good ways patients can ensure smooth and successful video GP consultations,’ says Dr Leach.
Choose a well-lit location and make sure the volume is up on your device so you can hear your doctor. It also helps to have some details about your condition to hand if you can, such as temperature, blood pressure (if you have your own machine) and heart rate. Make some notes in advance of questions you’d like to ask during the consultation.
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When video appointments aren’t appropriate
Remote appointments have many benefits such as reducing infection risk and mean you don’t have to travel to an appointment or sit in the waiting room, but they’re not suitable for everyone.
Those living with multiple conditions and other complex health needs, and those with hearing problems or cognitive difficulties may benefit from seeing their doctor in person. Plus, some medical worries must always be assessed face to face.
Remember, there’s usually another option. If you don’t have access to the necessary technology or don’t feel comfortable about an upcoming video appointment, contact your GP to arrange a different consultation method that you may find more suitable.
‘If you don’t feel comfortable about an upcoming video appointment, contact your GP to arrange a different consultation method that you may find more suitable.’
‘Both face-to-face and remote forms of GP consultation continue to be available during the COVID-19 pandemic,’ says Leach. ‘GPs and their teams are working hard to ensure all patient needs are accommodated when accessing care, and the most appropriate and comfortable form of GP consultation are always arranged.’