GPs in London are beginning a trial that allows patients to use their smartphone to book and attend appointments via video link. The service gives NHS patients the opportunity to benefit from the technology at their fingertips to improve their access to healthcare.
Approximately 3.5 million patients living in the London area are testing the new consultation service with their smartphones*. Estimates suggest that if 20% of those within the trial used their smartphone for a diagnosis, the amount of GP appointments and visits would significantly decrease, saving the NHS up to £13.3 million a year.
These are just the figures for the London area. If, or when, the scheme is rolled out nationally, this could save upwards of £100 million a year.
The scheme not only relies on patients using smartphones and tablets, but also on their internet connectivity. This initiative could be an ideal solution for rural parts of the UK where the distance to a surgery, hospital or clinic is an issue, but these are often the areas where internet connectivity speeds and reliability is poor.
The available internet connectivity not only has to be robust enough for the patient but for the GP surgery too. Even if the patient can benefit from the rollout of fibre broadband or the growing number of 4G masts going up around the country, if the surgery has limited connectivity, then this initiative is destined to fail.
It is maddening enough to suffer the frozen pictures or disconnected links on a social video call, but it could be very distressing for a patient trying to describe their symptoms or attempting to listen to their doctor’s advice.
I am sure this has already been addressed, but if not, I would suggest this is the right time for GP surgeries to test their internet connectivity and to upgrade to an improved and reliable internet solution to ensure patients can benefit from these video link consultations. It may even be worth investing in a separate connection for these video calls.
The return on the investment to the surgery will be easy to measure in terms of decreased face-to-face appointments, waiting times and wasted appointments.