NHS medical director urges GPs to use Skype for consultations

Consultations may be held online to improve patient access to GP services, according to the NHS medical director.

Professor Sir Bruce Keogh said online tools such as Skype could give patients convenient access to their GP at any time.

His comments came at the launch of a call for health professionals to submit ideas for smartphone health ‘apps’, held in London last week.

Speaking to The Times afterwards, Sir Bruce said he was investigating how online consultations could work in the NHS.

‘I am looking at how we can put levers into the system to encourage doctors to do online consultations,’ he said.

‘Once you have online consultations, it breaks down geographical boundaries. It opens up the spectre of 24/7 access.’

Sir Bruce told GP last month the NHS must do more to integrate cost-saving technology into the service.

‘There is technology in general, which we have been quite good in the NHS at using, if it’s affordable, to drive up the quality of care.

‘What we don’t do - our mindset isn’t quite in the right place [to consider] – how can we also use it to drive costs down? All other industries when they look at technology, one of the first questions they ask is does it improve quality and does it lower costs?’

He said some GPs already offer consultations via Skype and may interest many others. ‘Then I find myself thinking that’s the sort of thing that will appeal to some people. It would appeal to me,’ he said.

He argued it would be much more convenient for patients and GPs.

‘In a world where immediacy and convenience influence how people perceive the quality of a service, you can see how that kind of thing might catch on.’

A GMC spokeswoman said existing guidance stated that doctors must ensure patient information is not disclosed in public, for example, in an open internet chat forum.

But there are no specific rules about private online video conferencing at present.

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