Some senior doctors have criticised UK Government plans to open local surgeries from 8am to 8pm as “unrealistic and unachievable”. Current analysis of existing opening times showed that just 1% of local practices see patients on both days of the weekend, and that approximately three-quarters are closed for the whole weekend.
The launch of The Challenge Fund to support longer opening hours is expected to encourage GPs to consult some patients via secure email, telephone and video conferencing. This is expected to cut down the time spent travelling to appointments, for both doctors and patients. Alongside productivity gains and cost savings, this could also have positive health benefits for patients who find attending appointments in person difficult.
Polycom customers are already proving that video solutions can not only aid cost-cutting measures, but are actually beneficial to the quality of care patients receive.
The staff at Evelina London Children’s Hospital are delivering improved patient care in out-patient consultations by using video to monitor ultrasound images from the surgery theatre. The paediatric cardiology consultants are able to spend more time with patients and their families, and less time travelling between the clinic and the theatre. (See the case study.)
NHS Cumbria and Lancashire Cardiac and Stroke Network (CSNLC) have improved out-of-hours care in rural locations, where specialists may be located a long way away. The network utilizes video conferencing software on consultant's laptops to improve the outcomes of stroke victims by connecting patients with remote doctors in the time-critical early intervention stage of a stroke.
The medical director of the NHS, Prof Sir Bruce Keogh, has said that Britain's citizens are being failed by current ways of working. But I am not convinced that extending opening hours is the answer. It’s about access, not hours. In today’s connected world digital access can be the solution.
Government Ministers including Norman Lamb, the minister for health are encouraging the UKs healthcare services to make better use of the technologies available to them, especially video. Many of the consumer video solutions mentioned by the press are not suitable for this purpose. Medical consultations need the highest levels of security, such as those provided by Polycom solutions. Some doctors and nurses worry this will be complex, but safe doesn’t have to mean complicated. A Polycom customer in Europe uses Polycom RealPresence CloudAXIS which allows them to send patients a simple hyperlink, which opens a secure video call with their medical professional (no apps, no downloads).
In the future I believe telemedicine will become the norm, with us accessing our medical care in ever more convenient ways, and receiving a better quality of care as a result. Do you agree? Please leave a comment below.
**I also recently wrote about this topic on HuffingtonPost; read the related article.