GP-critical survey sort-of revealed – or is it? (UK)

When publications like Pulse manage to insert the historic, and wholly-unrepresentative-of-telehealth, cost/QALY from the Whole System Demonstrator into an article twice in a week (here & here), and the Royal College of General Practitioners produces a vision of a GPs life in 2022 that essentially ignores technological progress, it is hard for a publication such as Telehealth & Telecare Aware to appear fair and unbiased, so it is great to have an opportunity to redress the balance.

The occasion is a press release for a recent survey of patients in the UK which is pretty critical of GPs for not offering the ability adequately to communicate with them in ways that patients want.  For example:

“At present, only 23% of respondents have communicated with the GP’s surgery via their website, 18% by email, and 13% via text. A significant two thirds (67%) would like to book appointments via a GPs website, half (48%) by email and one third (33%) by text.”

Where TTA’s sympathies go over to the GPs though is in the section on online consultation:

“People were asked if they would consider alternative options such as telephone consultations and live email chats, rather than visiting their doctor in person. Although respondents conceded that there would be some advantages for minor ailments – particularly reducing waiting times and travel – the majority expressed concerns which ranged from:

  • The GP would not be able to conduct tests (64%)
  • Fears of misdiagnosis (62%)
  • Patient might not be able to describe their symptoms (54%)
  • A remote consultation would not be as thorough as in person (50%). “

The reality surely is that if a GP needs to conduct a test, fears misdiagnosis etc., they will suggest that the patient be seen by someone appropriate, or perhaps even arrange a house call?  Online consultation is now a well-recognised process with many advocates, as we highlighted in a recent post on the NHS England consultation. The 3G Doctor has also pointed out the value of documenting consultations (more here & here), which of course many online communications modes do automatically. If this was a tick-box survey (see below), perhaps there were two boxes missing that should have read:

  • “Does the ability to provide you with a documented record of an online consultation make it attractive to you?
  • Do you trust your GP to ask to see you if they are uncomfortable following a remote consultation?”

That might have provided some useful information.

Personally I’d love any means of early communication with my doctor, who I trust to ask to see me if he is not happy with an online communication, rather than waiting 27 days as recently (I have suggested the likes of Patient Access to his surgery too).

Finally, an important point: according to the press release the survey was “released” on 22 August although we have not yet seen a copy (we have asked) – this is important because the press release gives no mention of overall methodology, sample size or sample selection, all of which would be critical to understanding the importance of these results, which are potentially very interesting.

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