Remote consultations should not be the ‘automatic default’ for GP care after the pandemic, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has said.
In a report, published yesterday (11 May), the RCGP called for a £1bn investment in general practice infrastructure, including funding for improving digital technology, but said that face-to-face consultations must remain a ‘core element’ of care for general practice.
It said that in particular, remote areas of the UK – which may benefit from ‘greater uptake’ in digital consulting – need improved infrastructure to support the technology, including superfast broadband and network coverage.
The College’s report added that it expects there to be a ‘rebalancing’ between the two means of delivering care as general practice begins moving out of the pandemic.
‘The ‘right’ mix of consultation types will also likely vary according to the population demographics each practice serves, as younger tech-enabled communities may be better suited to a higher proportion of remote consultations than for those serving communities with a high proportion of older patients,’ it said.
However, the College warned against the continued use of the ‘total triage’ model after the pandemic and called on the Government to conduct a comprehensive review to develop UK-wide principles for its continued use.
The report said that ‘digital triage systems and platforms need to be properly evaluated at a national level, and co-designed with GPs, other clinicians, patients and carers to ensure they meet their needs’.
It added that if digital-first triaging systems are maintained post-pandemic, ‘significant capacity for traditional routes of access’ will need to be retained for patients without IT access.
‘This will be essential for preventing the further worsening of health inequalities,’ it said.
Face-to-face needed to maintain trust
The report also included findings from a survey carried out by the College in September 2020, which showed that 60% of 622 GPs felt remote consultations were more effective for following up with existing patients than for new patients.
It also found that 88% of GPs think face-to-face consultations are important for building and maintaining trusting patient relationships.Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said that GPs ‘choose to be GPs’ to care for patients, but that building relationships via video or phone consultations is a ‘very different skill to doing so in person’.
He said: ‘Remote consultations have advantages, particularly in terms of access and convenience for patients and making it easier for some hard to reach patient groups to access care. The pandemic has shown us that high quality care can be delivered remotely and many practices now have the appropriate means to do so effectively.
‘There is certainly going to be a place for it in the future of general practice, and for this we need significant investment in the service, particularly in hardware and connectivity, so that GPs can deliver high quality remote care for patients where appropriate.’
Professor Marshall added that as the country moves out of the pandemic, GP practices must be able to decide how they deliver services based on their knowledge of their patients.
‘Ultimately, we want to be able to offer patients the choice as to how they want to access GP services based on their health needs,’ he said.