Video appointments with GPs offer “minimal” benefits, a study has suggested.
Researchers at the University of Oxford set out to examine why just 0.5% of GP appointments in England are held on video, according to the latest figures.
Dr Trisha Greenhalgh and her team found that telephone and face-to-face appointments were considered to be more effective, following interviews with 121 people, including 55 GPs, some patients and other GP surgery staff.
The finding contrasts with predictions at the beginning of the pandemic from the likes of then-health secretary Matt Hancock, who said in July 2020 there needed to be a permanent shift to “Zoom medicine” and that “consultations should be tele-consultations unless there’s a compelling clinical reason not to”.
The study’s authors wrote that “the relative advantage of video was perceived as minimal for most of the caseload of general practice, since many presenting problems could be sorted adequately and safely by telephone and in-person assessment was considered necessary for the remainder”.
Although some patients found video appointments convenient, appropriate and reassuring, others preferred face-to-face appointments, they said.
The technology “sometimes” helped patients in the countryside, in nursing homes and those needing out out-of-hours care – but even then its use was not always deemed to be appropriate.
Doctors believed some of their patients were “unsuited” to the use of video technology, including some very old people and those with cognitive impairments.
The telephone was described as a more “familiar and dependable” technology that most people know how to use.
When it was not considered safe or appropriate, many GPs said they prefer to see patients in person rather than use video.
Doctors also worried that their close personal relationship with patients could be lost on video.
The researchers concluded that efforts to introduce video consultations in general practice should focus on situations where they have “a clear relative advantage” – for example, where patients or doctors prefer them, in remote areas for out-of-hours services and in nursing homes.