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Coronavirus: Telephone and video calling is the new face-to-face

GP's surgeries have had to transform the way they work in just three weeks to try to limit the spread of coronavirus.
Photo: Pixabay

Less than 1pc of GP appointments were carried out using video-link in 2019, while 80pc took place in person.

But the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) says that has been turned on its head following government guidance - dropping to around a tenth of the previous figure.

Face-to-face contact with a GP across the UK is now making up 7-8pc of all contact, RCGP's chairman said, as he praised the profession's "remarkable response". 

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG was unable to provide exact figures as to how how its practices have changed over the past few weeks, but we do know the figures of how they were dealing with appointments prior to COVID-19.

A spokesperson said: “The NHS has been working at speed to ensure that everyone who needs urgent medical attention can access it during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, which includes rolling out new ways of delivering care. GPs and their teams are at the frontline of those efforts.

"GPs, nurses and practice staff have been carrying out consultations with patients over the phone or via video link, with patients asked to attend the GP practice for a face to face appointment if clinically necessary. GPs have been provided with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for face to face appointments that are required.

"The public are reminded that they should still contact their local GP Practice if they have any concerns about their health or existing long-term conditions or illnesses, whether these are COVID-19 related or not.”

Types of GP appointments March 2019-Feb 2020 - Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG

  • Face to face: 4,185,540    
  • Home visit: 16,036
  • Telephone: 983,017    
  • Unknown appointment type: 223,630
  • Video conference: 63,874
  • Total appointment: 5,472,097
  • Total minus unknowns: 5,248,467    
  • Video as a percent of all appointments: 1pc    
  • Phone and video: 19pc    
  • Phone and video minus unknowns: 19.9pc
  • Face to face as percentage of appointments: 76.50pc   
  • Face to face minus unknowns: 79.70pc

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the RCGP, said around 40pc of patients would normally be triaged before booking an appointment.

Now all patients are initially assessed on the phone before booking either a call or video link with a doctor.

"Most of the consultations are taking place on the telephone rather than video link," he said.

"People are pretty happy with doing assessments over the phone and they are proving effective. Who would have thought this 150-year-old technology would still be just as useful today?"
He said there were occasions where a video appointment was beneficial, particularly in the case of assessing skin rashes. But with people able to email in pictures of the affected area, he said phone calls have been used in around 90pc of cases.

In 2019, two thirds of all regional NHS commissioning areas carried out no video call appointments, NHS data shows.
"The big question is which elements do we want to embed in our practices in the future?" Prof Marshall said.

"I don't see us doing all of our consultations over the phone or online, but certainly up to 50pc is possible."

There are still occasions where patients need to attend a practice in person, such as where blood pressures or oxygen saturation needs to be read, he said.

Regional NHS areas are establishing "hot and cold" practices to mitigate the risk of infection.

Hot practices assess people with clear COVID-19 symptoms only. In more rural areas this can take the form of a single room in a surgery. In bigger areas it can be several surgeries.

Though Prof Marshall said just as many precautions were being taken at cold sites.

Concerns have been raised that people who may not have access to smartphones or a computer will be excluded from seeing their GP during the crisis.

Elderly needs charity Age UK has urged practices to be "proactive" in contacting people on their registers known to have underlying health conditions.

Senior health influencing manager at the charity, Tom Gentry said: "Surgeries have a lot of information at their disposal. Using that, they need to make active care plans for people to enable them to feel supported.

"It's about not waiting for people to deteriorate and it's about reaching out to them first."

Mr Gentry said that surgeries should also not discount the use of home visits, providing adequate precautions are taken.

"No one should be told outright that they should not be visited in their own home," he said.