GPs remain resistant to politicians' calls to adopt Skype consulting, with many citing poor technology and a lack of patient demand.
A recent survey – published in the British Journal of General Practice – showed just one of 391 practices that responded was using video appointments, and few were interested in adopting video consultations.
Lead author and GP Professor Chris Salisbury, of University of Bristol, told Digital Health News that even the one Scottish practise that had adopted Skype barely used it.
“They set up this specialised place for it and only use it once a month,” he said. “They view it as a waste of money.”
While telephone appointments were increasing prevalent, with six out ten GPs using them, email consultations were barely more popular than video, with only 6% using them to check-in on patients.
The survey is part of wider project Salisbury and his co-authors are running, funded by the National Institute for Health Research, to examine new ways in which GPs are communicating with patients and how this is working out in practice.
Video consulting has repeatedly been touted by politicians as a part of a solution to growing burden placed on GPs, but progress has been faltering.
The Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund was set up in October 2013 to push innovations in GP practises, including a seven-day access and the adoption of video and e-consultations.
In April 2014, 20 pilot sites were given the go-head to access up to £50 million of funding. Subsequently, a second fund, worth up to £100 million, was announced.
Reaffirming his commitment to the fund in May last year, Prime Minister David Cameron said a patient should be able to “use Skype, FaceTime or email to get some advice without setting foot outside his front door”.
However, an independent review of the first wave of pilots in October last year revealed mixed results. Video consultations had been “challenging to implement”, with barriers including poor broadband connections and lack of enthusiasm among patients.
Salisbury said the survey showed that while there was “an awful lot of rhetoric and hype about Skype”, this was not being reflected in what patients were demanding or what was convenient for busy GPs.
Rather than alleviating pressure, many GPs who responded to the survey felt video was just another cost, which provided no advantage over other ways of interacting with patients.