> 52% of patients would Skype their Doctor if the option was available
> 20% of patients said a Skype appointment with their doctor would be more private
> 14% of patients said a Skype appointment would make it easier to discuss problems.
> 14% of patients don’t think there are any benefits in Video Calling their GP
Those surveyed suggested benefits of Video Consults with Doctors might include:
> savings because they don’t need to make a round taxi trip
> convenience and cost savings for those who are full time carers as they wouldn’t have to find and pay for replacement care to cover their time attending a medical appointment
> more comfort, privacy and convenience
> new opportunities to prioritise preventative care for patients who won’t attend a Healthcare facility
> new opportunities to modernise the housecall
> ways to avoid infectious disease eg. flu season
> opportunities to consult with a patients registered GP from anywhere
Those surveyed suggested downsides of Skype Consults with Doctors might include:
> concerns about patients who don’t have “internet access or IT know-how” and “technical hiccups”
> concerns about Skype not being secure
> who’s going to pay for the equipment that patients will need
> will it create “‘have nots” eg. patients left behind who haven’t got the technology
> Video consults can never beat in-office consults as “most GPs need to examine their patients”
> increased waste of resources
Dr Clare Gerada, Chair RCGP, told the researchers that video access could be “particularly beneficial for GPs and patients in rural areas – and patients and carers unable to leave their homes… …provided access and ability do not create additional barriers to treatment… …(although) new technology would never replace the benefits of a face-to-face surgery consultation”.
Dr Dawn Harper, GP and presenter of Embarrassing Bodies: Live from the Clinic, said: “As a practising GP, I am all too aware of how difficult it can be sometimes to get an appointment. There will always be some patients that we have to see face-to-face, but I certainly do a lot more phone calls and email consultations than I used to and I can see Skype being a useful addition to our armoury.”
Why not ask those who are already doing it?
In 2012 it’s strange to me that the NHS is researching what patients think Skype calls with their Doctors would be like when they could just be asking those patients who are ALREADY using Skype to consult with their NHS GPs.
Interestingly in NHS GP clinics where the Doctors have made themselves available over Skype and heavily marketed it to patients it’s proved much less popular than the survey results would suggest.
Obviously the research highlights there are very differing opinions on this (eg. 20% of patients said it would be more private whilst others mentioned they had concerns about Skype not being secure).
I wonder if these patients have some reason to believe Skype is insecure or if this is just general concern about PC viruses/vulnerabilities?
Perhaps the Mobile Network Operator mHealth teams should address these concerns in their marketing messages eg. publicizing the additional security of 3G handled calls/data over and above that carried on 2G networks/networks.
Benefits of video calling can be uncertain to some
In addition to 46 patients reporting that they could think of see no benefits in video calling their GP, there’s also a concern about the difficulty for a Doctor to “examine a patient” over a video call and suggestions that it would just waste resources and could “never replace the benefits of a face-to-face surgery consultation”.
I think this highlights the need to focus attention to the new capacity that a video call can open up eg. if your GP is closed, has a sign on his door saying don’t come in if you have flu symptoms, hasn’t got specialist training, etc then perhaps a Doctor who is available, can consult with you during a swine flu season, has dermatology specialist training, etc.
Obviously we should also promote the work of Doctors who get mHealth and are good communicators. Dr Rafael Grossmann Zamora (a Trauma Surgeon) gave a great TedX talk that I have found is very helpful at raising awareness of the capacity of mobile video tech in healthcare eg. if this Trauma Surgeon can use mobile video calls I can talk with my Doctor about my informational needs.
The Digital Divide
Whilst the opportunity to modernise the housecall is obvious there’s a lot of concern that some patients can be left behind because they don’t have the necessary tech/”IT know-how” or the ability to afford the equipment. I think this is an important reminder of the need to focus on mobile video calling rather than a PC based alternative. Here are a few reasons:
> Unlike PC based Skype Calls Mobile video calls naturally default to mobile voice calls (and nearly everyone’s already got a mobile)
> The cost of a Video Mobile is even less than the cost of internet connectivity
> The usability of Video Mobiles are lightening years ahead of PC’s with webcams and this is being greatly boosted by advances in mobile UI’s