Video calling is something that many of us frequently use, some of us use it to speak family members and friends in faraway locations. Others use is at work where businesses have started to use it to streamline business processes, videoconferencing with colleagues or clients in geographically distributed locations. Recently the NHS has announced plans for a scheme whereby patients are able video call their doctor, replacing a face to face consultation. With the ever increasing number of missed doctor’s appointments, this seems like a great way to make NHS services more convenient for us all. It also demonstrates how technology can be used by the NHS to speed up treatment and save money.

Using technology to improve efficiency and convenience is nothing new to the NHS, they currently text patients certain test results and appointment reminders. Some waiting rooms even have machines that can automatically take blood pressure readings.  Many surgeries also regularly use email to communicate with their patients and have automated online booking services. This all makes sense as people are expensive, the NHS is investing in technology to reduce human interaction. Economically this is a very sensible option but at what cost?

There are concerns that turning to video calling will lead to poor diagnosis and mistreatment of patients. It may lower the standard of care that the NHS is providing. Often when visiting your doctor there is some level of physical examination involved, there is a risk that reliance on video calls will mean that simple checks such as temperature or blood pressure may be overlooked. Due to the lack of face to face contact doctors may be forced to rely on medical histories and notes potentially leading to misdiagnosis. However, if using video calls means that people are more likely turn up to appointments and seek medical advice it is something that has to be worth considering.

Assuming that doctors are aware of technical limitations and security issues with video calling, it could mean that fewer doctor’s appointments are missed and doctor’s time can be used more effectively. It may also prove useful for patients in rural locations, or with a disability who could have a ‘face to face’ consultation with their doctor in their own home. There are limitations with the idea, but it is evident there are clear benefits in terms of convenience for both patient and doctor. It is arguably different to telephone advice services offered, in that the doctor is able to see the patient and assess their overall condition. However, there is no question that even with the best picture quality a face to face consultation is likely to be better in most cases.

There is a clear use for this scheme and with seemingly never ending budget cuts it is defiantly something worth considering. For it to work effectively it is key that doctors recognise the legal implications that video calling may have. Medical negligence solicitors such as Pannone are keen to point out that video calling it isn’t sufficient in assessing all patients properly, and in most cases a face to face consultation may have to be arranged instead.


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