British GPs: 'Rather in-person consultations than call centre approach'

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Many GPs find telephone appointments with patients frustrating and want to see them in person because they fear they will otherwise miss signs of illness , the leader of the UK’s family doctors has said. Professor Martin Marshall is quoted in The Guardian as saying that remote consultations felt like working “in a call centre” and risked damaging the relationship between GPs and their patients.

Telephone and video appointments had proved useful during the COVID pandemic, when GP surgeries limited patients’ ability to come in for face-to-face appointments, he said. However, while that helped limit the spread of coronavirus, “this way of working has been frustrating for some GPs, particularly when most consultations were being delivered remotely, who have felt like they’ve been delivering care via a call centre, which isn’t the job they signed up for.

“Remote consultations have advantages, particularly in terms of access and convenience for patients. But we know that patients prefer to see their GP face to face.

“Remote working has been challenging for many GPs, particularly when delivering care to patients with complex health needs,” said Marshall, who is a GP in London. “It can also make it harder to pick up on soft cues, which can be helpful for making diagnoses.”

The Guardian reports that his remarks come as the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) leaders and doctors groups are discussing how far appointments should return to being in person now the pandemic is receding. Some doctors and health charities are concerned that if remote consultations were to become routine, doctors will miss signs of illnesses, for example cancer, that they would pick up if they were able to examine patients physically.

The Guardian reports that recent research by YouGov for the Health Foundation thinktank among a representative sample of 4,426 UK adults found that 60% of patients had used technology during the first wave of the pandemic more than beforehand. Of those, 83% reported a good experience but 42% said they thought not seeing the doctor in person resulted in a worse quality of care. A parallel survey of 1,413 NHS staff found that 78% thought expanding the role of technology had been helpful but 33% believed it made for a lower standard of care.

The survey also reveals that a relatively small percentage of trainee GPs intend to do full-time clinical work after they qualify. Only 33% said they planned to work full-time as a family doctor a year after and 11% planned to do so after five years. Large numbers intend to work part-time or have a portfolio career combining, for example, medical education.

Beccy Baird, a senior fellow at the King’s Fund, said: “Unsustainable workloads and intense pressure are contributing to many trainee GPs’ plans to work part-time in general practice. “Trainees tell us that they often plan part-time working patterns to try to avoid burnout, balance work with caring responsibilities or so they can take on other clinical work.”

 

Full report in The Guardian (Open access)


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