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Is Skype really the way forward for online consultations?

23 January 2019

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When NHS England medical director Stephen Powis urged the healthcare sector to use Skype video calls to treat patients, did he really mean Skype? Dan Worman chief executive of Refero explains.

The report released towards the end of last year by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), backed by Powis, highlighted how improving the current outpatient appointments system could save the NHS millions.

This was also echoed in the new long term plan – digital appointments with consultants will become the norm as it is estimated that thirty million hospital visits a year will be avoided by the use of tele-consultation calls.

The RCP’s report said the time had come to overhaul the system by embracing innovation: making more use of remote monitoring and telephone and video consultations. Well, I couldn’t agree more.

But where Powis misses the mark here is referring to video consultations as Skype.

Skype, was founded in 2003 and was acquired by Microsoft eight years later.

Today it is synonymous with video calling and video conferencing.When the NHS made the decision to purchase Skype, it was a huge stride forward in embracing technology to improve patient care.

Skype is often assumed to be the answer for the NHS, because it is so well-known, but it is often forgotten that is was not designed for this purpose. 

When the NHSmail 2 Portal was introduced around three years ago, Skype for Business was added in a primitive form, mainly as an instant messaging tool. It was certainly progress, but there are today very clear limitations and technical boundaries.

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As is common with tele-consultation software, you have to download multiple plug-ins before you can join meetings and you have to reboot your browser, often a number of times, before you can begin talking to anyone.

It is reflected in the new plan how digital solutions can, and will, improve NHS services, and it has been recognised that large proportions of patients do not need to visit a GP to get the advice or treatment they need. 

A patient can talk to the right person at the right time, in the right place.

The NHS needs to be looking at digital solutions holistically, rather than as a point solution. If you decided to use Skype for patient consultations or for instant messaging, you are actually creating silos of technology.

But if you were to take a holistic view, you would use a vendor that has an end-to-end solution.

Changing the language used in practices is going to be a huge cultural shift.

Our focus is to raise the awareness that there are other services out there that can do a far better job for the healthcare sector.

So, start using the term tele-consultation, and consider that there is a world of choice out there that can do a better job for you, and your patients.

The underpinning technology shouldn’t matter, it is the outcome that is important.

Dan Worman CEO of Refero expalins his views.

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