Survey shows how GP services changed during pandemic

Only one in every seven GP appointments is being held face to face, highlighting the extent to which coronavirus has affected community healthcare.

The Royal College of GPs found 61% of consultations were being held by telephone, 6% via text messages or e-mail, and 4% by video consultation.

Home visits accounted for 2%, care home visits 1%, and face-to-face consultations another 11%, meaning the remaining 86% of appointments were held with the assistance of technology, according to the survey.

Before the pandemic, around a quarter of consultations were held by phone, with the organisation’s chairman saying appointments held this way “pose a challenge” owing to an absence of visual cues.

Professor Martin Marshall said: “We can’t do physical examinations over the phone, we can’t give vaccinations or take blood tests.

“It’s a different skill to face-to-face consulting, but it can be effective, especially for patients with simple conditions.

“The biggest challenge is when patients have complex health needs, as being in the same room as a patient, with whom you might have built up a relationship over time, is incredibly useful and difficult to replicate remotely.”

The survey, based on 859 responses between July 9 and 22, also showed that 88% of surgeries had rolled out e-consultations compared with 5% before coronavirus, and seven in 10 GPs said telephone consultations increased their efficiency.

Prof Marshall said care can still be delivered effectively and safely from a remote setting, adding: “Remote consultations, whether by telephone or video, won’t be suitable or preferable for everyone, and that certainly isn’t what the College is suggesting.

“Once more normal service resumes in general practice – and we await official guidance on this – patients who want face-to-face appointments will be able to have them.

“We want patients to be able to access GP services in the way that is best for them and best meets their health needs.”

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