The speed with which day-to-day operating practices are changing during the Covid 19 outbreak is unprecedented. Following the health secretary Matt Hancock's call for primary care staff to carry out consultations remotely where possible, as part of a 'digital first' approach, GP practices have rushed to discover how best to achieve video consultations to conduct remote appointments.
There has also been a shift in approach when it comes to sharing information from; 'how you share it', to 'what information is shared' and 'who is it shared with'?
But at this time of crisis and extraordinary pressure facing GP practices, it is essential to avoid any unnecessary distractions – not least in reviewing and assessing new technologies.
The majority of remote consultations can be conducted by telephone, without any issues or delays associated with checking the patient has enough bandwidth or is comfortable with the idea of a video consultation.
Furthermore, where a video consultation is deemed absolutely necessary, NHS advice is now allowing the use of WhatsApp, Skype and other similar products, where you can establish a face-to-face connection with a patient, "where the benefits outweigh the risk".
At the moment, we would advise practices to use standalone products to get started and remember to record details of any consultations.
In our experience, we would suggest reaching out to Attend Anywhere, and AccuRx as we believe they are easiest to get live with, and they offer to set up a standalone video conferencing facility. The set up can be quick: AccuRx's Chain SMS can be downloaded and installed within minutes and uses SMS to send a patient a video request with a link to the video consultation -and the product can currently be downloaded free at the moment for use during Covid.
NHS Video Conferencing Commitment
Video consultations have, of course, been under discussion for some time. In England, the NHS has just started procurement to buy video conferencing services for all GP practices across the country. Vision will be submitting a product, Maiia, that is used in France, which supports GP practices, pharmacies and optometry practices.
Clinicians and administrative roles can use the video conferencing software, so appointments can be booked and managed by practice staff. Maiia includes robust scheduling and calendar-driven appointment management, with additional features including setting up clinicians and their preferences, creating appointment types (from standard types provided), lengths, and associated resources.
NHS England's decision is, of course, in the future. In the meantime, if GP Practices can use their own devices and make the most of familiar tools such as WhatsApp, then there will be a free service coming your way very quickly.
The situation in Scotland and Wales is more advanced, where the roll-out of Attend Anywhere is already underway. The product was initially used in Scotland to provide a facility for pharmacists to undertake remote medication reviews with patients and subsequent pilots with GP practices have been successful.
We understand the same decision is about to be made in Wales, where Attend Anywhere is currently being piloted by several GP practices, and it is expected that the national governments will also fund the cost in Scotland and Wales.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a continually evolving situation, and advice is changing all the time around video consultations. NHS Digital is focused on the national position, while NHS organisations are also mobilising resources.
Your CCG, CSU, health board, cluster, or primary care network (PCN) may be able to provide some guidance and support on local initiatives, and we will keep you up to date wherever possible.