Telemedicine in general practice

Telemedicine in general practice has yet to become the norm. The way we receive healthcare has not changed significantly in over 100 years and is certainly not something that will change overnight. But with the average waiting time for a patient to see a GP in the UK rising to nearly two weeks, there is clearly a need to cut down on in-person visits and telemedicine certainly has the potential to provide much more than a sticking plaster to the situation.

Telemedicine certainly has the potential to provide much more than a sticking plaster to the situation.

There’s an ever-growing portfolio of Apps and digital solutions being presented by health-tech companies to help tackle the long waiting times for patients and reduce the pressure on the NHS. Essentially, technology is allowing for the provision of remote clinical services, via real-time two-way communication between the patient and the healthcare provider – but there’s still some caution about its ability to replace the human touch. 

In reality, many of us are already regularly using it. Telemedicine can be defined in a number of ways, for example, patients might say that if they make a phone call to the GP surgery and receive an instant “solution” either over the phone or by sending an email, then that is telemedicine because you are using technology through your mobile device or PC to seek medical advice. 

Currently, video consultations are less widely used but (as we’ve seen in highly successful models in the US and Ireland) it is a practice which can help to eliminate waiting times, provide patients with an immediate diagnosis or second opinion and, when introduced into the workplace, can drastically help to reduce absenteeism. It’s an exciting phenomenon that HR directors and all employers can ill-afford to ignore.

Looking at the UK’s work force, 130 million days are lost to absenteeism, costing the economy £100 billion a year.

Looking at the UK’s work force, 130 million days are lost to absenteeism.

There is no better benefit than health, and by introducing a telemedicine solution into a company, it can help to cut the level on absentees as well as getting employees back to work quicker than if they had to wait to see a GP.

According to a People in Management survey last year, 60-70% of people called in sick due to minor illness, highlighting there is a huge amount of people who are absent when they don’t need to be and who could get back to work sooner if they could see a doctor, quickly and from the comfort of their own desktop or device. 

Then there is the staggering cost of sickness in UK companies. The figures are striking: Sick days cost the UK economy £100 billion a year, according to the CIPD’s 2016 absence management report and, a total of 130 million days is lost to absenteeism every year. 

Put simply, video consultations are convenient, on demand, and provide patients with an immediate diagnosis, eliminating ‘sick days’ for minor illnesses.  

In my opinion, the market right now is the perfect time to bring telemedicine to the UK. However, this will need to be in a way that doesn’t completely disrupt the way the NHS works – after all, it will never fully replace face-to-face consultations but should complements and support an already overburdened and straining system. And, whilst many of us are actively embracing the technology revolution of the 21st century, a culture change and gradual shift in mind-set is needed, especially when the vast majority of the UK population is not used to paying for primary care consultations. But, by introducing telehealth into a scheme where all employees receive it as a benefit, it has the potential to play a really valuable role in helping to manage the demand on the NHS, reducing the cost of absenteeism on businesses and the economy and making medical care more efficient for both patients and healthcare providers.

Mary O’Brien, is CEO and Founder of VideoDoc.

Mary O'Brien

Mary O’Brien is CEO and Founder of VideoDoc.

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