Written by Solicitor/Senior Litigation Executive, Kate Goodman

Following my previous blog, is it time for a communications upgrade in the NHS? I have examined the NHS’ interpersonal communications and the people behind the information.

This second blog will discuss the impact of human interaction and whether there is still a need for face-to-face consultation today.

Booking a face-to-face appointment

The NHS has advised that they will move away from face-to-face appointments in the near future.

As demand for NHS services increases, the availability of timely appointments at the hospital and GP surgeries has become a nightmare for doctors and patients alike.

According to Laura Donnelly, Health Editor at the Telegraph, officials pledged that within five years, one in three hospital appointments would be scrapped, with patients being offered Skype consultations or smartphone alternatives.

Alternative virtual communication

To alleviate the pressure, an increasing number of services are now being provided virtually.

For instance, the primary argument for tech-led solutions is; do patients always need to be physically examined?

For example, getting into a car and driving to a hospital in order to sit in a waiting area for hours, (as appointments are frequently behind schedule) to ultimately spend a few minutes with a doctor, is frustrating to say the least.

Secondly, there are patients who cannot drive.

These patients require hospital transport, which is not always available, and can add hours onto an already lengthy day.

Ultimately, doing all this when you’re feeling unwell, or when a patient is disabled, is even more uncomfortable. This is also why there’s a valid argument around the relevance of face-to-face consultations.

Patient access and travel restrictions

There is also the environmental perspective.

The need to travel to and from appointments is not recommended and improvements can be made to make appointments more environmentally friendly.

On the other hand, some of the most vulnerable people in society are dependent on their access to the NHS, be that their GP or emergency care. It is therefore concerning that this key demographic is likely to become more isolated by technologies growth.

According to a report published by York Press, patients now ‘fear’ booking an appointment with their local GP.

We must also remember patients are not the only people involved here. The pressure of having an oversubscribed clinic list, and a full waiting room is likely to impact negatively on the mental and physical wellbeing of the doctor involved.

Are group appointments the ideal solution?

Ask yourself, will an overworked doctor examining patients under time pressure promote the highest standard of patient care? In my experience, it does not.

As an alternative to the use of technology, some GPs have started to introduce group appointments.

Patients with similar medical conditions attend together to see the GP over a lengthier session. Whilst these appointments are a novel approach to access to GP appointments, it is a step away from individualised healthcare. Not all those who attend will feel able to discuss their most personal issues and unless they are able to freely access alternative appointment arrangements, there is a risk of this approach jeopardising individual health.

In conclusion, if appointments can be allocated elsewhere, or appointments conducted in a more time efficient manner, there is a hope this will improve productivity, and of course, save the NHS money.

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