In evidence to the House of Commons health and social care committee, Mr Hancock said the NHS should 'keep the benefits' gained during the pandemic.
He told MPs that before COVID-19 forced a dramatic shift in the way primary care services were delivered this year, 'everyone knew' the proportion of GP appointments delivered via telemedicine should be higher.
Mr Hancock himself argued earlier this year that all future GP consultations should be conducted remotely ‘if appropriate’, sparking a backlash from doctors who said he did not understand general practice.
Remote GP consultations
In evidence to MPs on 24 November Mr Hancock claimed that around 45% of GP appointments are currently being delivered remotely - adding that this level 'feels about right to me'.
The idea that around half of consultations could be delivered remotely in general practice on a permanent basis is broadly in line with comments from RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall in May.
However, evidence suggests the health and social care secretary's estimate of the current level of remote consultations is wide of the mark.
Data collected from practices by the RCGP surveillance centre suggest that around two thirds of patient contacts with GPs in the week beginning 9 November were via telephone or video consultation.
The figure cited by the health and social care secretary appears roughly in line with the most recent monthly data published by NHS Digital on GP appointments. Figures for September 2020 show that 56% of GP appointments were face-to-face - although the figures are published with a clear caveat that they do not accurately reflect GPs' work following the shift to total triage.
NHS Digital notes that the use of 'list appointments' means that in some cases 'several patients are contacted but only one notional appointment slot appears in the collected data' - meaning its figures do not accurately reflect numbers of appointments carried out by telephone.
Mr Hancock told MPs he wanted to use the pandemic and greater use of telemedicine to ‘accelerate the engagement’ of patients with their healthcare and services.
He said: ‘On telemedicine, I absolutely think we should keep the benefits that we’ve gained. The proportion of telemedicine dropped back by a couple of percentage points, which kind of tells me that we’ve settled at about the right level - around 45% of primary care appointments are now done by telemedicine.
‘Before [the pandemic] everyone knew it should be higher, but now the question is what is the right level? And that feels about right to me.’
A GPonline survey of more than 500 GPs conducted in July predicted that over half of patient appointments will be dealt with remotely once the pandemic subsides. But the RCGP has stressed that any permanent shift must be handled with caution to avoid undermining GP-patient relationships.
Professor Marshall argued last month that the health secretary had ‘overplayed his hand’ by pushing for all consultations to be remote.
Former RCGP chair Dame Clare Gerada has also warned that GP burnout presents a major barrier to increased adoption of remote and digital general practice services in future.