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GPs warned against ‘over reliance’ on Skype consultations

13 November 2012

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Skype could be a “useful” way for GPs to make contact with patients who find it difficult to travel to their GP surgery but medico-legal experts warn against a potential “over reliance” on the technology.
Reports show that one in ten health appointments were missed last year, which can impact a practice’s finances and delay treatment for other patients.  
MDDUS medical adviser Dr Barry Parker said the concept of holding consultations via Skype is an “interesting development”, which may have “clear advantages” in terms of convenience for patients and doctors.
He claimed Skype consultations could be particularly “useful” for patients in rural areas, those with a disability, and amid travel disruption during adverse winter weather.
”Skype consultations may potentially be better than telephone advice calls, in that the patient can see who they are talking to, aiding communication, and the doctor can gain an overall impression of the patient’s condition,” he said.
“Not every patient has access to a computer or would feel comfortable using this new technology, but for some it may be convenient and beneficial.”
However, Dr Parker warns health professionals from an “over reliance” on Skype consultations “given the limited scope for any examination of patients.”

“Even with good picture quality, observation of skin conditions, for example, is likely in most cases to be much better at face-to-face than Skype consultations, and examination beyond superficial observation will be impossible,” he said.
While Dr Parker claimed the medico-legal “pitfalls” of Skype consultations “are not yet fully apparent”, he said it is anticipated that some will be “similar” to telephone advice.
“The key issue for doctors will be to recognise when this mode of consultation is not sufficient to properly assess the patient and address the problem, and to arrange a face-to-face consultation instead,” he said.