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Could technology transform GP consultations?

Press release issued: 20 October 2014

The way we interact with our GPs could be transformed thanks to a new £458,000 project exploring whether consultations could viably be conducted via email, text message, telephone or via the internet.

A group of researchers from the Universities of Bristol, Oxford, Edinburgh and Exeter have received funding from the National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research (NIHR HS&DR) Programme to investigate whether there are alternatives to face-to-face consultations that will not only reduce GP workload but also benefit patients.

The research aims to learn lessons about the perceived advantages and disadvantages of alternatives to face-to-face consultations, and why these alternatives have not been used more widely in general practice.

The two-year study, led by Professor Chris Salisbury from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Academic Primary Care, will select GP practices with different experiences, including some that make extensive use of alternatives and others which have tried but have failed or had to change their plans.

Professor Salisbury 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.

“By talking to patients in these practices we can learn more about their views about the pros and cons of alternatives to face-to-face consultations and how these affect the nature of the consultation or the doctor-patient relationship. This research, based on the actual experience of patients and doctors who have used alternatives to face-to-face consultations, offers better insights than earlier research based on the views of people who have never used them.”

One of the reasons the healthcare system has been slow to adopt alternatives to face-to-face consultations is concern from GPs that allowing other forms of contact would substantially increase their workload.

On the other hand, replacing face-to-face consultations with a phone call or email might actually save work. Another concern is that these new forms of contact might benefit some groups of patients more than others, or change the nature of the doctor-patient relationship.

Professor Salisbury added: “Our research will address these questions and explore the potential role of different types of consultation method, for different types of problems, different types of patients and in different practice contexts.”

Based on their findings, the researchers will make recommendations to practices and provide resources to help them provide alternatives to face-to-face consultations which are likely to be of most benefit to different groups of patients in different types of areas.

Further information

About the NIHR

The National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research (NIHR HS&DR) Programme was established to fund a broad range of research. It builds on the strengths and contributions of two NIHR research programmes: the Health Services Research (HSR) programme and the Service Delivery and Organisation (SDO) programme, which merged in January 2012. The programme aims to produce rigorous and relevant evidence on the quality, access and organisation of health services, including costs and outcomes. The programme will enhance the strategic focus on research that matters to the NHS. The HS&DR Programme is funded by the NIHR with specific contributions from the CSO in Scotland, NISCHR in Wales and the HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website.

This article presents independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.


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