Using alternatives to face-to-face consultations: a survey of prevalence and attitudes in general practice
Brant H, Atherton H, Ziebland S, McKinstry B, Campbell JL, Salisbury C
Background: The ubiquitous use of communication technologies has led to an expectation that a similar approach should extend to health care. Despite considerable rhetoric about the need for general practices to offer alternatives to face-to-face consultations, such as telephone, email, and internet video consultations, the extent to which such technologies are actually used at present is unclear. Aim: The aim of the survey was to identify the frequency and range of ways in which general practices are providing (or planning) alternatives to face-to-face consultations. Design and setting: A postal survey of practices around Bristol, Oxford, Lothian, the Highlands, and the Western Isles of Scotland. Method: A postal questionnaire survey was sent to each of the GPs and practice managers of 421 practices between January and May 2015. Results: A response was received from 319/421 practices (76%). Although the majority of the practices reported that they were conducting telephone consultations frequently (n = 211/318, 66%), fewer were implementing email consultations (n = 18/318, 6%), and most (n = 169/318, 53%) had no plans to introduce this. None were currently using internet video, and 86% (n = 273/318) had no plans to introduce internet video consultations. These findings were repeated in the reported use of alternatives to face-to-face consultations at an individual GP level. Optional free text responses were completed by 28% of responders, and offered an explanation for the (often perceived) barriers and incentives for implementation. Conclusion: Despite policy pressure to introduce consultations by email and internet video, there is a general reluctance among GPs to implement alternatives to face-to-face consultations. This identifies a substantial gap between rhetoric and reality in terms of the likelihood of certain alternatives (email, video) changing practice in the near future.