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Remote GP appointments: Are they here to stay and how does that impact patient care?

By Rebecca Tramaseur, a medical negligence solicitor at Irwin Mitchell

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic we have all become accustomed to a new method of seeing our GP remotely. A recent BBC analysis reviewed NHS Digital data and concluded that in August 2021 only 58 per cent of GP consultations were face to face compared to 54 per cent in January 2021. This is an increase of face to face appointments of only four per cent since the end of lockdown.

This data suggests remote GP appointments are here to stay for the time being at least. The question is whether this new way of consulting our GP ensures patient care. Worryingly,  a recent BBC article suggests this may not be the case.

Missed Diagnosis 

As a medical negligence solicitor I have supported patients and families in cases where key symptoms have been missed sadly impacting a patient’s health. It is crucial a full assessment is undertaken to ensure a diagnosis is reached as soon as possible to improve the health of the patient.

Patients in general practice present with a wide range of potential illnesses and conditions. It is arguably possible to take a patient’s history of symptoms in a remote appointment but a patient’s presentation is much harder to discern. A telephone call or video call only gives a snapshot of the patient’s full health.

A patient who may sound reasonably well during a telephone conversation may not always present as looking well in assessment. Is it possible that remote GP appointments are creating false reassurance and key symptoms are being missed?

Patient-Doctor Communication 

Not only is it crucial patients are fully assessed during consultations; the patient-doctor communication also plays a key role in a GP consultation.

A consultation with a GP is often a patient’s first port of call when they have health concerns. Attending a GP for the first time to discuss those concerns can be daunting and distressing for some patients. 

It is widely known that a face to face conversation is preferable to build trust and rapport with the GP. This is crucial for a patient-doctor relationship; a patient must feel comfortable to discuss their concerns. 

Communication is key to diagnosis and as we move to a digital and remote communication world there is a risk those who are less familiar with technology will not feel able to discuss their health openly in remote consultations.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and their families affected by missed diagnoses and healthcare issues at our dedicated medical negligence section.

The family of a law student believe he would not have died had he been seen face-to-face by a GP.

David Nash, 26, had four remote consultations with staff at Burley Park Medical Centre in Leeds over 19 days before he died on 4 November 2020.”