Clinical risk in remote consultations in general practice: findings from in-COVID-19 pandemic qualitative research
Rosen R., Wieringa S., Greenhalgh T., Leone C., Rybczynska-Bunt S., Hughes G., Moore L., Shaw SE., Wherton J., Byng R.
Background: The COVID-19 pandemic-related rise in remote consulting raises questions about the nature and type of risks in remote general practice. Aim: To develop an empirically based and theory-informed taxonomy of risks associated with remote consultations. Design & setting: Qualitative sub-study of data selected from the wider datasets of three large, multi-site, mixed-method studies of remote care in general practice before and during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. Method: Semi-structured interviews and focus groups, with a total of 176 clinicians and 43 patients. Data were analysed thematically, taking account of an existing framework of domains of clinical risk. Results: The COVID-19 pandemic brought changes to estates (for example, how waiting rooms were used), access pathways, technologies, and interpersonal interactions. Six domains of risk were evident in relation to the following: (1) practice set-up and organisation (including digital inequalities of access, technology failure, and reduced service efficiency); (2) communication and the clinical relationship (including a shift to more transactional consultations); (3) quality of clinical care (including missed diagnoses, safeguarding challenges, over-investigation, and over-treatment); (4) increased burden on the patient (for example, to self-examine and navigate between services); (5) reduced opportunities for screening and managing the social determinants of health; and (6) workforce (including increased clinician stress and fewer opportunities for learning). Conclusion: Notwithstanding potential benefits, if remote consultations are to work safely, risks must be actively mitigated by measures that include digital inclusion strategies, enhanced safety-netting, and training and support for staff.