When asked what proportion of patients should be seen remotely in future - by phone, video, or online - 302 of the 439 GPs responding to the question said 50% or more (see graph below).
The survey findings follow the publication of RCGP data that show more than 70% of GP consultations were being conducted remotely during March and April this year, a complete reversal of the usual pattern.
Many GPs had been sceptical about the quality and suitability of remote consultations but the rapid transformation of services under pandemic conditions has dramatically changed perceptions. As one respondent said: ‘I feel the pandemic will genuinely change the face of general practice’.
GPs now believe that remote consulting will free up time for longer face-to-face consultations in the surgery, and also allow GPs to routinely work from home.
But there are still concerns about the limits of remote consulting, the potential harm to relationships with patients and the danger of missing serious conditions. ‘There are still lots of advantages to face-to-face consultations’, said one GP, ‘so a balance is required and will vary according to patient preference and ability to participate’.
'Remarkable transition driven by necessity'
RCGP Chair Professor Martin Marshall said the profession had 'swiftly and drastically' changed the way it worked during the pandemic.
'It has been a remarkable transition driven by necessity, yet its smoothness and effectiveness in allowing us to continue delivering safe patient care has taken many GPs by surprise, as demonstrated by these survey results.
'Moving forward, it’s important that general practice doesn’t lose some of the technological advances it has made in such a short time. However, we know that many patients will still prefer face to face appointments – and many GPs will do, as well, particularly for patients with complex conditions who really benefit from the continuity of care that GPs can provide.
'We run the risk of isolating some patients'
'It is in no one’s interest for general practice to become a largely remote service as that will run the risk of isolating some patients – not just those with complex needs, but also our less tech-savvy patients and those who don’t have access to the appropriate tech. This in turn risks exacerbating health inequalities.
'We need to be able to offer a range of access options for patients to suit their needs and preferences – a 50/50 split in terms of face to face and remote appointments would seem a realistic balance.'