Doctors will be able to hold patient consultations using online technologies as part of plans to revolutionise the delivery of health services, the medical director of the NHS has said.
Professor Sir Bruce Keogh said that IT will “completely change the way we deliver medicine” making access to GPs at any time a reality and giving patients the ability to talk to specialists anywhere in the country.
Sir Bruce told the Times newspaper he was looking at using online services such as Skype to make the NHS more convenient for users.
“I am looking at how we can put levers into the system to encourage doctors to do online consultations,” he said.
“Once you have online consultations, it breaks down geographical boundaries. It opens up the spectre of 24/7 access.”
Sir Bruce said that the health service had a long way to go before it caught up with the technological progress of recent decades, arguing that the service had to change to make use of new technology.
Doctors leaders and patient groups warned the internet should not become a means to cut access to GPs or transfer out-of-hours care to overseas call centres, but admitted budget cuts could force the NHS to rethink the way services are provided.
Patients Association chief executive Katherine Murphy told the Times that patients would “embrace” the proposals “in the right setting”.
“There is scope for initiatives like this. If your child has a rash, your GP could look at it and say ‘you need to come in’ or ‘you need to go to hospital’. It may speed up the process.”
But she added: “We would be concerned that it could translate to more frustration for patients. People are already concerned that they are spending less time with their GP and we wouldn’t want this to be a way of reducing that further. It should always be the choice of the individual.”