Recently there has been debate about whether video consultations are a useful part of the digital toolkit for healthcare services and, if they are, where they best fit in. Video consultations are relatively new and although they have been supercharged via the COVID-19 pandemic, how they are used and evidence for where they prove to be most beneficial is still emerging.
Our view is that video consultations alone do not make the shift toward digitalised healthcare. Nor should they be seen as the silver bullet to meet healthcare challenges. Our experience from working with a wide range of different healthcare providers has shown that video consultations are most beneficial when they are provided as an integrated part of a patient pathway, not always, but often combined with other means of interaction, be it digital or physical.
Having a video consultation prior to a physical appointment has in many cases proven to make physical follow-ups much more effective since both the patient and the clinician can turn up better prepared for the meeting. Shorter video consultations as part of a rehabilitation chain have proven to positively affect the recovery rate of certain patient groups. For patients who need to undergo larger surgery, a video consultation before the surgery can be very comforting compared to just receiving a letter and therefore where no interaction can take place. A video consultation also makes it easier for relatives (or a potential translator) to take part in the meeting, thus ensuring everyone gets the same information in real time. Video consultations where several participants can attend simultaneously have proven to facilitate the planning and implementation of MTD meetings.
Email, messaging, telephone, and face to face appointments are all part of how care can be delivered. Video adds functionality and flexibility. What’s important is that all these tools are being deployed where they have the maximum benefit for both healthcare provider and patient. As we have learnt over the last two years there is no need to funnel all patient interactions through a single communication channel. Health and care of the future should utilise the most effective tools, or combination of tools, for each patient interaction supporting their experience and outcomes.
And since there is also a debate about whether patients prefer face-to-face meetings; crucially patients generally prefer getting easy access to healthcare.
Given that digital channels are secure and seamless, most patients who have tried online consultations are very positive about the help they have received. Research has shown that patient-clinician engagement in virtual visits was comparable with in-person visits.
Digital channels may still not be the preferred choice for everyone, but we need to remember that we are not building the healthcare of tomorrow for the patients of today. We are building for future generations to come. Therefore, by providing a digital choice to the patients who are able, we can free up time for those who cannot. And again, it is not about replacing physical appointments. It is about changing our ways of working and creating value with the use of digital technology.