GPs could soon be referring patients to outpatient appointments taking place via Skype, following calls from NHS England’s medical director.
Professor Stephen Powis said the ‘the time has come’ to use technology to reduce some of the 118m outpatient appointments every year, ‘many of which’ NHS England claimed are ‘unnecessary’.
Aside from using ‘Skype, apps and online tools’ to treat outpatients, another alternative route to make better use of patients time would be by having them seen ‘by specialists at the GP surgery’, said Professor Powis.
According to NHS England, this would mean ‘thousands’ of patients being ‘spared hospital visits, time off work and school while also saving the NHS millions’.
Professor Powis further suggested these new measures would form part of the NHS long-term plan.
He said: ‘The outpatient system is older than the NHS and the time has come to grasp the nettle and use tech and other innovations to improve patients’ experience and care.
‘As part of the long-term plan for the NHS, it’s right we look at ways to cut unnecessary appointments, save thousands of journeys, reduce traffic and pollution and make the NHS more efficient.’
But Family Doctor Association chair Dr Peter Swinyard said: ‘There are few specialities in which a contemporaneous examination of the patient is not a useful part of the consultation.
‘There is a risk that this could just transfer secondary care work inappropriately to overstretched GPs – we want a consultant opinion and sometimes supervision of care where it is clearly the right place for care.’
Highlighting a number of NHS ‘case studies’ related to cutting outpatient appointments, NHS England mentioned a virtual renal e-clinic in Tower Hamlets in east London, via which GP can send questions on kidney patients direct to specialist consultants for a quick reply.
It also mentioned the telephone ‘hotline’ for GPs to get fast advice from neurology consultants in Cheshire and Merseyside, which NHS England recently claimed has saved £100,000 a year.