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.
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.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.A postal survey of practices around Bristol, Oxford, Lothian, the Highlands, and the Western Isles of Scotland.A postal questionnaire survey was sent to each of the GPs and practice managers of 421 practices between January and May 2015.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.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.