The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a big change in the way health care is delivered to the patient. Appointments via telephone or video consultations have become the norm, and email requests to the surgery, or use of apps and online self-help content are being encouraged as never before.
It’s only natural that some patients will feel apprehensive by this move online, and in some situations, a face-to-face consultation is still appropriate.
However, it’s not simply all about controlling infection from COVID-19. Online appointments can also have their advantages.
NHS England says cyber-health benefits include:
- Reduced administrative workload for practice staff
- Improved communication between patients and practices:
- Reduced travel for patients
- Expanded health knowledge for patients
- Increased and more accurate information sharing
- Better ability of patients to make more informed decisions:
- Reduced phone calls to practices
- Increased patient satisfaction because of heightened efficiency.
- Reduction of number of people who do not attend their appointment
- Improved access to care services
How online healthcare works in practice
Patient systems are being developed to enable doctors to provide care. One of the leaders in the field is eConsult an online consultation platform that allows patients to submit their symptoms or make a request to their GP online by answering appropriate questions online, wherever they are and at any time.
Practices then receive the patient’s history as a structured but concise document, which they can review within two to three minutes.
London GP Dr Amarjit Raindi says: "Patients have to use the e-Consult online questionnaire with the symptom algorithms, according to the results of this we will then get back to the patient. The process can speed things up slightly, provided that we do not have to go through everything again and we only need to ask a couple of planned questions.. 78% of all consultations are now currently done online"
In 70-90 per cent of cases, the patient’s consultation can be closed remotely without an in-person appointment. Most patients receive a response by the end of the next working day.
Some patients will require urgent action, and eConsult has a built-in red flag system for symptoms that need immediate attention. The platform is now the most used digital consultation platform in the NHS.
Tips to get the best out of online healthcare
If you are given an online appointment, you may find this advice useful to ensure you get the most out of your time with the doctor.
- Write down your symptoms before emailing or talking to your doctor so you don’t forget anything
- List any non-prescription medicines or supplements you are taking
- If you have any medical testing equipment at home that may be appropriate for the consultation, thermometer, blood pressure cuff, or oximeter, take the readings beforehand
- Ask for help if you need it and, if possible, do a practice run with a friend
- Find somewhere quiet and confidential to talk before the consultation
- Ensure your technology is working properly before your appointment – is there a good mobile phone signal, good WiFi connection?
- If you're having a video consultation make sure you allow video and microphone access
- A phone call if usually best if you’re are not confident with video technology
- Have a pen and paper ready in case you want to make notes
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions
- If you don’t understand what the doctor is saying, or feel they are using jargon, ask them to explain
- Try not to rush. Explain your problems clearly. If you have more than one problem, go through them one at a time
- Allow the doctor time to answer and try not interrupt them. Take notes as you go
- At the end, if you have a chance, try and summarise the next step as you understand them, so the doctor can confirm you have understood.
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