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The use of Skype (or VoIP) for Medical Consultations

Two weeks ago I attended a face-to-face consultation at my local hospital which in itself lasted no more than 5 minutes. For it, I had to take half a day off work (travel forth and back, time spent walking forth and back from the car park, waiting time etc) , spent £5 on petrol, and £4 on car parking fees. Not to mention, the time it took to make up the hours and of course the freezing cold weather. I’m sure many of you can relate to this.

As I was driving home, I realised that had my consultant just dropped me a 5 minutes call, it would have saved so much time and hassle saved costs for me and the NHS too (they wouldn’t need multiple waiting areas, staff, cleaners and parking spaces!), which would result in increased productivity, cost savings and convenience for both the NHS and patients!

The use of Skype (VoIP) for health consultations outside the NHS

There are numerous examples of health consultations being conducted through Skype, or other VoIP applications, especially in alternative medicine and therapy. West Sussex Homeopathy,  Harley Street Skin, and NLP therapy, are a few examples of many that conduct consultations through Skype. More excitingly however, Lloyds Pharmacy are now offering private GP consultations through Skype for £20 per a (15-20 min) consultation.

Using Skype (VoIP) in the NHS for health consultations

After the Department of Health’s call in August to ask the public to submit and suggest favourite apps as well as your ideas for new apps and health maps (more info here), Professor Sir Bruce Keogh announced that he was looking at using online services such as Skype to make the NHS more convenient for users: ”Once you have online consultations, it breaks down geographical boundaries. It opens up the spectre of 24/7 access.”

He went on to argue that it would be much more convenient for both patients and GPs: ‘In a world where immediacy and convenience influence how people perceive the quality of a service, you can see how that kind of thing might catch on.’ According to GP Online, a GMC spokeswoman replied to this news saying that ‘existing guidance stated that doctors must ensure patient information is not disclosed in public, for example, in an open internet chat forum’. I can understand the caution of GMC, but since when is Skype an open internet chat forum? However, there have been issues raised (thanks @clarkmike for bringing it to my attention) in America about  the security of data transported through Skype and the ease by which some hackers could breach doctor-patient confidentiality if Skype is used for consultations.

Please also join the #nhssm chat this week (on Twitter) about video calling for consultations.