Private doctor digital consultations grow in the UK

 

Over 65’s account for the majority of patients needing to see cancer or other chronic disease specialists. They are also the group most at risk of being severely affected by COVID-19. 

One way to avoid infection and keep people in this age group safe is to conduct follow-up consultations online via a secure platform. Patients concerned about infection are increasingly asking for digital consultations instead of having a face-to-face appointment and specialist doctors are turning to digital platforms to meet this demand. 

These online platforms, which offer video-consultations between patients’ and their chosen specialist, have seen the number of doctors wanting to use its service rapidly increase in the past two months. Trustedoctor, for example, has signed up 500 doctors since 2016.  In one week in March a further 200 private doctors across clinics in London expressed an interest, plus several hundred around the UK are now looking to be set-up on the platform.

Benefits to digital consultations

Former president of the British Thyroid Association, Dr Mark Vanderpump, who has been using the Trustedoctor platform. He has said: “An online service is proving particularly welcome during this time of anxiety about travelling while the Coronavirus is amongst us. Access to timely and expert medical advice is key to overall patient wellness but this can be a challenge if you are unwell, have tricky transport links or live in a different country to your preferred consultant. This was one of the main drivers for offering a secure and easy to use e-consulting platform for my patients. It has transformed the ability to advise anyone who doesn’t actually require a physical examination and patients have responded very well to this new technology.” 

Online platforms offer a structure that can save doctors time by offering a digital one-place solution for all their digital engagements, including video consultations, second opinions and follow-ups. Many online platforms only offer a report from a specialist doctor but others, like allow patients to discuss the findings, challenge them and then follow-up, and even invite their GP or family members to the conversation.

In the UK, access to digital, video-based services in specialist healthcare services is a natural step from the progress made by GPs using online platforms.  At the beginning of this year, most specialist doctors were yet to embrace this new technology. Pushed by the impact of COVID-19, the advantages of carrying out consultations remotely have become clear, and online consultation services are now set to increase for specialist care. 

Educating patients 

It has so far been the doctors who are pushing to use the technology. In the UK, this is improving accessibility to patients, where senior NHS staff now believe 70% of all follow-up consultations could be conducted online.  

We also heard that insurance companies will reimburse digital consultations in the place of physical consultation where possible. “In light of the current COVID-19 situation, insurance companies are understanding the importance of video consultations in a modern age and those that do not currently cover this are reviewing the stance on reimbursing the costs” says Samantha Kane from Independent Practice Services, which runs Independent Oncology.

The spread of COVID-19 has pushed digital consultations further into the public’s consciousness, and Trustedoctor has over 1,500 patients using their platform, who are mostly cancer patients, and over-65, either using it alone or with their families. However, we recognise that to grow the wider use of digital platforms, even in this time of crisis, healthcare institutions and insurance companies need to educate their customers and show leadership in this sector. 

Moving from ‘nice to have’ to expected standard 

There is now an established place for digital consultations, to share expert opinions between clinicians and directly with patients without borders. For international patients looking for private healthcare in the UK, the technology will facilitate quick access to specialist medical expertise. 

Patients are looking to go the extra mile with their treatment and having video consultations at a hospital or clinic’s disposal, to facilitate meetings with leading physicians, will likely become a standard for patient-to-doctor interactions in the future.  

About the author. Lukasz Rzeczkowski established the Trustedoctor platform and service in 2016, with the help of a world leading specialist doctor, following one of the founder’s journey seeking cancer treatment. The platform offers consultations in multiple specialist areas including cancer (both oncology and surgery), cardiology, orthopaedics and gastroenterology. Trustedoctor operates in six countries but its main focus is the UK, particularly private healthcare services in London.  Email [email protected].

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