The virtual doctor will see you now: Nearly all patients give ‘Near Me’ the thumbs up

By Lucy Ashton 

More patients than ever in West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute are utilising NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s virtual consultation service.

The latest figures reveal in October alone, nearly 12,000 ‘Near Me’ appointments were undertaken across more than 970 NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde services covering acute and primary care.

Near Me – the virtual consultation platform – has played a key role during the pandemic to allow patients to receive the care they require from the comfort of their own homes and supported clinicians in managing their patients. The service lends itself well to a large number of patients who would otherwise have had to make an unnecessary in-person trip for their appointment.

An NHSGGC survey of 3,481 virtual consultation patients found nearly all (98%) stated they would use the service again. More than four out of five (83%) highlighted not having to travel for an appointment as the biggest benefit, with just under two-thirds (61%) pointing to the increased convenience and 58% indicating the consultations represented a more efficient use of their time overall.

In total, virtual consultations last an average of 31 minutes, and for the majority of those who are given an appointment, fulfil the same requirement as an in-person appointment would.

Those patients who are unsuited to virtual consultations, or who require face-to-face appointments for other reasons such as physical examinations, are given in-person appointments, with each case being assessed on an individual basis to ensure patients receive tailored support specific to their needs.

Commenting, Dr Scott Davidson, deputy medical director for acute services at NHSGGC, said: “Remote or virtual consultations are a vital tool for healthcare professionals to deliver care. For a large number of patients, it makes sense for us to deliver their care while they remain at home, rather than asking them to make what could be a substantial journey to an outpatient clinic for us to explain something in person which could easily be done over the video or phone. We know they are benefiting from the service because they tell us and we’ll continue to offer it to suitable patients.”

GP and deputy medical director for primary care services at NHSGGC, Dr Kerri Neylon, added: “Remote consultations are allowing our GPs to manage extremely high patient numbers, and providing a valuable service to patients where it’s not essential to be seen in person. The pandemic has forced a much more rapid implementation than previously planned, but feedback overall is very positive, and our patients are getting used to it. However, we are not taking a blanket approach with Near Me and would stress that there are still thousands of telephone and face-to-face patient appointments taking place across GP practices within Greater Glasgow and Clyde. If you need to be seen in person, you will be.”

Some broad examples of virtual appointments working particularly well within Primary Care:

  • When patients are isolating or unable to leave the house due to caring commitments
  • Consultations for mental health concerns
  • Consultations requiring joint examinations

    Meanwhile, the Scottish Government is providing funding of £30 million to support GP practices to continue providing a high level of care to patients through winter and into next year.

    The funding will help with the provision of existing GP services, including:

    • supporting more face-to-face appointments
    • extra GP sessions, practice nurse time and non-core hours covering all appointments
    • more administrative time and practice manager time
    • organised cover for reflection, learning and innovation
    • external GP locum sessions

    Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, pictured right,  said: “The contribution general practice makes to the health and wellbeing of communities, through continuity of care and meaningful relationships with patients, is invaluable. We recognise that, as face-to-face appointments have resumed and demand is increasing, surgeries are working overtime to meet patient needs.

    “This support package will allow practices to target investment where it is most required to sustain the high levels of care they have always provided through what is likely to be the most challenging period in the history of the NHS.”

    Chair of the BMA’s Scottish GP Committee Dr Andrew Buist said: “BMA Scotland has consistently sought a greater level of support for GPs and we are pleased that the Scottish Government has listened and taken this step in the face of the huge challenges of this winter and beyond. With demand continuing to outstrip capacity, this will help support practices in the coming months and plug some of the gaps caused by difficulties in recruiting to practice teams.

    “It is particularly good GPs have flexibility to focus funding on what will make the most difference to their practice and their patients. As we look ahead to next year and the ongoing threat to the sustainability of practices, this is a welcome addition we have secured in negotiation with the Government.”

     

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