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30.01.18

RCGP: Patient safety ‘paramount’ in online GP consultation plans

Technology being used to take pressure off GPs such as through online consultations is welcome, as long as patient safety remains a key priority, GPs have said today.

The statement comes following a study published in the Royal College of GPs’ (RCGP)’s  British Journal of General Practice (BJGP) which looked into the effectiveness of electronic alternatives to face-to-face GP consultations.

It concluded that implementation of alternatives to face-to-face consultations would be “modest and gradual”, and that practices planning to put the systems in place should fully consider the reasons behind their decision before going ahead with the change.

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, vice chair of the RCGP, said that whilst the innovative use of technology within general practice must be explored, it must be safe, effective and lead to better outcomes for patients, the practice, and the NHS.

“Patient safety must be paramount in any clinical consultations,” she cautioned.

Many GP practices have already started to offer online consultations, which are convenient for some patients.

“However, we also know – and this research backs this up – that they don’t necessarily help to alleviate workload pressures on GPs, or improve access to general practice services for patients,” Hawthorne continued.

She added that although online and telephone consultations can be great for some patients, they are not suitable for all: “If practices do choose to offer them, then it should be as one way to access GP services, not the only way.”

Where practices are considering alternatives to face-to-face consultations, they should carefully consider the implications of this for patients and the practice, she continued.

The college is currently developing guidance on this.

“If this route to consulting with patients is being considered by a practice, practice policies must be developed carefully, agreed by all in the practice, and followed to ensure patient safety,” she concluded.

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