Face-to-face GP visits outscore video consultations on quality and depth

GP consultations carried out face-to-face last longer, score higher for quality and involve a greater exchange of information between patients and doctors than video consultations, researchers have found.

Face-to-face consultation (Photo: sturti/Getty Images)
Face-to-face consultation (Photo: sturti/Getty Images)

Researchers studied recordings of 149 video consultations by GPs across nine practices and compared them with telephone and face-to-face appointments, in the first in-depth analysis of video consultations in primary care.

As the health service works towards a pledge in the NHS long-term plan to give all patients 'a new right' to choose digital-first primary care by 2023/24, the researchers warned that 'considerable work may be required to integrate video consultations with current NHS systems'.

Researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh, Warwick and Exeter warned that although popular with some patients, the advantages to clinicians of video consultations were 'less clear'.

The study, published in the BJGP, found that video consultations had a similar duration to telephone consultations, covered similar ground and had a comparable impact on follow-up workload.

GP consultations

But compared with face-to-face consultations, the researchers found a 'reduction of some elements of care, particularly information giving, and consultation length', which they said 'may have consequences for overall experience and effectiveness of care'.

They called for further research to investigate the implications of wider use of video consultations in the NHS, 'to determine the best role for video consultations in terms of suitability for patients and clinical conditions, and the risks and benefits associated with it'.

Although clinicians reported that face-to-face appointments were more useful for managing patients conditions than either video or telephone consultations, the study found that more than half of patients felt there were no disadvantages to either video or telephone consultations.

Professor Brian McKinstry from the University of Edinburgh said: 'Video-consulting shows great promise for straightforward problems. While missing some of the depth of face-to-face consultations, some patients may be happy to trade this off for the convenience of a doctor they can see without having to travel to the surgery or take time off work.'

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