GP pilots Skype consultations with patients

Manchester GP Dr Sirfraz Hussain is offering patients Skype consultations as part of a pilot scheme.

Dr Sirfraz Hussain: Skype consultations pilot
Dr Sirfraz Hussain: Skype consultations pilot

The Moss Side Family Medical Practice GP says introducing the technology has not been difficult because many patients already use it to speak to relatives overseas.

Dr Hussain said the practice has been offering telephone consultations for some time.

‘During one of these, I asked if the patient had Skype, and they did,’ he said.

The practice has been trialling wider use of the technology over the past four months.

‘Communication is mainly non-verbal,’ said Dr Hussain. ‘You miss out on that on the phone. Skype means you no longer have to miss out on the non-verbal cues.’

But the practice is expanding use of video consultations slowly. ‘I average one or two Skype consultations per week – we have been taking it cautiously,’ said Dr Hussain.

‘Until I’m sure we can deliver a service that is safe and robust we will not rush ahead.’

Video calls are only made from the practice to patients by prior arrangement, and are governed by existing GMC rules for phone consultations.

He said the practice was conducting follow up calls to patients to assess whether the system affects the quality of consultations.

‘We’ve found it enhances our ability to communicate with patients. It’s not a panacea, it’s just a useful adjunct to what we already do,’ Dr Hussain said.

Many clever NHS schemes with potential to improve care had ‘fallen flat’ because patient engagement had failed, he said.

But he pointed out: ‘Skype is free, and patients are already using it – even elderly ones. They often use it to stay in touch with their families abroad.’

He said Skype had proven useful during heavy recent heavy snow, with patients reluctant to leave home, and could have helped during the swine flu outbreak when patients were encouraged not to visit their practice.

‘It will never replace the core of general practice - sometimes you have to put hand on their tummy or be able to feel the patient. But it is a great tool that can add something and has lots of applications. We are quite excited.’

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