Medico-legal warning on phone consultations

DoH plans for more GP telephone consultations may be flawed because their effectiveness is questionable and could disadvantage some patients, according to the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS).

Dr George Fernie, senior medico-legal adviser at the MDDUS, said: ‘We know very little about what goes on in telephone consultations and even less about the quality of advice given compared with face-to-face consulting.

‘Some studies suggest that phone consultations are briefer and more cost-effective than consulting in the surgery or at home. However, one trial of GP phone triage found that patients were 50% more likely to re-consult within two weeks than those seen face to face.

‘Patients who haven't got a phone, are hard of hearing - nearly half of the over-70s - or don't have English as a first language may be disadvantaged. The service might appeal to housebound patients and those who are geographically isolated though.

‘Perhaps the most disconcerting part of phone consulting is that you can't informally examine the patient, as you can face to face. If a sick child makes a dive for the toy box in your surgery, he probably hasn't got meningitis. How can you tell that over the phone?'

  • Would you like to do more consultations over the phone?

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