GPs across Greater London and surrounding counties will be provided with access to video consultations software, with hopes it will jump start the historically slow uptake of the technology.
The North East London Commissioning Support Unit says the video service should be available to between 1500 to 2000 GP practices in London, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, in the first half of 2017/18.
It will would available through a new HealthConnect service, developed by the unit, West Essex GP federation company Stellar Healthcare and supplier Cinos, using money provide under GP Access Fund.
James Davis, the unit’s head of infrastructure solutions, said the app, built on Cisco Jabber, creates a secure encrypted video link between a patient and clinician for either a scheduled or ad hoc appointment.
The patient is emailed a link that drops them straight into a video call, providing they have downloaded the app.
“It’s easy. It’s one button to install the app, and one button to connect to the session.”
Emailing the link controls each session individually while preventing some of the access and identity issues that could arise from other video services, he said.
“Having a flexible identity and using Skype was too insecure. It’s the equivalent of the GP giving out their direct dial to patients.”
Video consultations has been an NHS ambition for years and a personal favourite of health secretary Jeremy Hunt. Big money has also been spent on video consultation projects throughout the country through the GP Access Fund.
However, uptake has been slow with one study earlier this year finding only one of the 391 practises surveyed used video consultations and even in that practice, patient uptake was low.
An independent review of the first wave of GP Access fund pilots in October last year found video consultations had been “challenging to implement”, with barriers including poor broadband connections and lack of enthusiasm among patients.
Davis said he was aware of the challenge to improving uptake but believed the HealthConnect option, along with strong education campaign for bother clinicians and patients, will work.
Video appointments could reduce did-not-attend rates, which would ultimately save GP money and time, and patients the hassle of traveling.
“The idea is making it more accessible and make it less challenging to actually attend an appointment.”
Stella Healthcare have been running the video consultation service in its weekend and evening clinics since August and, although the numbers are small, the results have been promising.
IT Director Renier van Zyl said both GPs and patients have been positive about the service.
“Patient feedback has been incredibly good and we have had an exceptional response rate.”
The service would be available to all practices in West Essex by the end of the year but van Zyl hoped it would adopted more widely as well.
“This isn’t a pie in the sky idea. It’s a really practical solution that can work.”
James Davis and Dan Worman, technical director CINOS, will be speaking about HealthConnect service in a Digital Health webinar at 12.30pm on Friday, 4 November.