Why video appointments aren’t a silver bullet for increasing capacity in your practice

02/12/2019 | Medical Technology

Video appointments, also known as telemedicine, are being touted by some as a silver bullet for solving capacity issues in the health system. Increasing capacity is critical to ensuring the ongoing viability of the system as greater demands are placed on stagnating numbers of GPs

Adoption for this method of appointment is growing quickly, signalling its importance and popularity with both patients and clinicians. The number of appointments delivered by video has increased by 400% in the past five years and will no doubt keep on growing. 

It’s easy to see why video appointments have become a popular option, especially for patients. Speaking to a clinician face-to-face via an app or web browser is far more convenient than travelling to an inconvenient location (the surgery) at an inconvenient time (whatever slot is available). Rather than being at the beck and call of random appointment schedules, patients can take more control of their health. Instead of having to fit appointments around varying employment schedules and/or childcare, patients can access healthcare professionals far more easily. Plus, clinicians get an increased amount of flexibility – less commuting, while still delivering high quality care to their patients. 

What’s more, by moving patient appointments to other service channels, there are numerous ancillary benefits, such as:  

  • The spread of infections is reduced 
  • Physical infrastructure and resources are reserved for those needing it most 
  • Reduction in the number of patients that would have reverted to urgent care centres. The cost of one or two patients visiting A&E currently amounts to a whole year of GP care, meaning video appointments help stop significant value leaking out of the system. 

It’s clear that video consultations are clearly a fantastic innovation…but what if we were to look at another angle? 

A small shift in perspective leads to a whole different story. 

The truth is, an unnecessary GP appointment is unnecessary whether it’s delivered in person or via video. 

And depending on which practice you speak to, somewhere between 25% and 50% of GP appointments should have been dealt with through other means. Like visiting a practice nurse or going to a pharmacy. 

In reality, video consultation are only part of the equation to unlocking the value of digital technology. The real opportunity lies in using technology to increase capacity in your practice by directing people towards different care channels, when appropriate, before the appointment is booked. 

But how does that happen? And is it really that much more effective? 

Well, yes. Because there are other variables you can include to deliver a higher level of efficiency. In addition to video, patient portals are an effective way for surgeries to evolve how they deliver care in the future. By giving patients secure access to their medical record and prescriptions, patients can feel more in control of their care. Coupled with personalised content based on their known health profile, patients become more active in care and can make smarter decisions armed with the right information. 

Companies in sectors like Financial Services are seeing in excess of 50% of their customers choosing digital-only options to manage their accounts. Although healthcare has its own unique needs, physical interaction remains a critical component of care, but we recognise that needs are changing. Just like in other sectors, we fully expect this trend towards digital self-service to impact the healthcare industry just as much as it has others. 

Having a smart triage system on your website is another way to reduce requests for appointments – sometimes by up to 40%. By asking a clearly defined set of questions and directing patients towards the most appropriate place based on their responses, resources can be diverted efficiently. To begin with, think about the common reasons a patient books an unnecessary appointment. Then consider how resources could be used more efficiently to address these issues before patients book an appointment. This is not about cutting costs and reducing the standard of care but examining how digital tools can help improve the standard of care, without driving up budgets. 

Another thing to note is the demographics you are trying to serve and how best to fit care into their needs. Which patients are more likely to adopt newer tech and which ones show more reticence? And if there are low adoption rates, it means the benefits of these new care options are not being communicated clearly or regularly enough for it to be a compelling option. 

Ultimately, it is important to recognise that telemedicine is only one part of the puzzle. Offering a wide range of tools that address patient needs before the actual appointment is booked can help alleviate resources while ensuring patients get a high standard of care. Patient portals and digital triage tools are key assets in ensuring that patients are engaged, active, and in control of their health. This ensures that patients across demographics are given accessible and personalised information while balancing practice resources and budgets.