Video consultation remains less effective than face to face appointments in general practice, partly because of the difficulty of getting good connections, according to an experimental study reported today.
Researchers concluded that the quality of discussion was poorer during video consultations than when GPs saw patients in person – even though the same amount of time was allocated.
Six practices in the Lothian region of Scotland took part in the study, reported in the British Journal of General Practice.
Researchers compared 149 consultations conducted by video – using specialist software, by telephone or in person.
They say the project was hampered by technical challenges and clinicians often needed Wi-Fi boosters in their rooms to ensure they could get a signal. Patients similarly often found their broadband access was inadequate – although those with fast Wi-Fi connections had the best results.
Out of 43 patients who underwent video consultations, just three said they were not useful.
The researchers, based at the Universities of Edinburgh, Warwick and Exeter, concluded that more information was exchanged during face to face consultations.
The government is hoping that large amounts of consultations can be switched to video, reducing queues at practices. The researchers say that more studies need to be done to identify how it is best used and what are its risks and benefits.
Researcher Professor Brian McKinstry, from Edinburgh, said: “Video-consulting shows great promise for straightforward problems. While missing some of the depth of face to face consultations, some patients may be happy to trade this off for the convenience of a doctor they can see without having to travel to the surgery or take time off work.”