Changing media depictions of remote consulting in COVID-19: analysis of UK newspapers
Mroz G., Papoutsi C., Rushforth A., Greenhalgh T.
©The Authors. BACKGROUND: Remote consulting was introduced quickly into UK general practice in March 2020 as an emergency response to COVID-19. In July 2020, 'remote-first' became long-term government policy. AIM: To explore how this change was portrayed in national newspapers and how depictions changed over time. DESIGN AND SETTING: Thematic analysis of newspaper articles referring to remote GP consultations from two time periods: 2 March-31 May 2020 (period 1) and 30 July-12 August 2020 (period 2). METHOD: Articles were identified through, and extracted from, LexisNexis Academic UK. A coding system of themes and narrative devices was developed and applied to the data. The analysis was developed iteratively, amending the coding structure as new data were added. RESULTS: Remote consulting was widely covered in newspapers. Articles in period 1 depicted it positively, equating digital change with progress and linking novel technological solutions with improved efficiency and safety (for example, infection control) in a service that was overdue for modernisation. Articles in period 2 questioned the persistence of a remote-first service now that the pandemic was waning, emphasising, for example, missed diagnoses, challenges to the therapeutic relationship, and digital inequalities. CONCLUSION: As the first wave of the pandemic came and went, media depictions of remote consulting evolved from an 'efficiency and safety' narrative to a 'risks, inequalities, and lack of choice' narrative. To restore public trust in general practice, public communication should emphasise the wide menu of consulting options now available to patients and measures being taken to assure safety and avoid inequity.