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Researchers will investigate how technology can transform patient interactions with their doctor.

Gp study to explore online consultations
The findings could change the way patients routinely consult with their doctor.
- Dr Helen Atherton, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford

Health experts are to investigate whether replacing face-to-face GP visits with telephone or internet consultations would bring benefits for both patients and doctors.

The study will explore the perceived advantages and disadvantages of using communication technologies to deliver GP services. Researchers will investigate whether consultations can be conducted effectively by email, text message, telephone or over the internet, based on the experiences of those who have tried it.

The two-year project will be conducted by a group of researchers from the Universities of Oxford, Bristol, Edinburgh and Exeter, who have received £458,000 funding  from the National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research (NIHR HSDR) Programme.

The researchers will speak to GPs and patients from surgeries across Oxford, Bristol and rural Scotland who already use alternatives to face-to-face appointments, and others that have tried but failed, or had to change their plans.

Dr Helen AthertoneHealth researcher Dr Helen Atherton, NIHR School for Primary Care Research Fellow in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford said:

“We are trying to understand how communications technologies could provide alternative ways to have contact with a GP, and how this would affect both GPs and patients. The findings could change the way patients routinely consult with their doctor.”

Conducting medical consultations by phone or across the internet could save considerable time for patients by reducing the need to travel to GP surgeries. This could be particularly useful for following up conditions that don’t need a physical examination.

One reason the healthcare system has been slow to adopt alternatives to face-to-face consultations is concern from GPs that other forms of contact may increase their workload. Another concern is that these new forms of contact may benefit some groups of patients more than others, or change the nature of the doctor–patient relationship.

The study will address these areas and explore the role of different types of consultation method for a range of problems and a variety of patients.

Lead researcher Chris Salisbury, Professor of Primary Health Care, Centre for Academic Primary Care, University of Bristol said:

“By focusing on practices which have tried to use alternatives, including some that feel they have done so successfully, we hope to learn how practices have overcome the potential problems, the key factors that made it possible, the benefits they have found and the difficulties they face.”

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