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Virtual GP consultations: seeing a GP has never been easier

This is part one in a series of blog posts about virtual consultations. The next post will discuss consultant-led virtual consultations.

To book a virtual consultation, download My HCA GP app on your Apple or Android device, call 020 8131 6211 or visit the website.
 
Virtual GP consultations aren’t new. At HCA Healthcare UK our doctors have been hosting virtual consultations for years. However, during the COVID-19 outbreak, this way of seeing your doctor – without having to leave your home - has become the new normal. We explain how it works – and why we think patients will be using virtual consultations to see their GP in future.

How do virtual consultations work?

So, you have a health complaint and you want to see your GP – how can you do this without leaving the house? There are three easy ways to book an appointment to see one of our private GPs. Either through the My HCA GP app - which can be downloaded to an Apple or Android device, by calling the bookings team or through a bookings email.  

During the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen a peak in those choosing to download and use the app. This way, you can choose which GP you would like to see and view the appointment times available. Due to a rise in demand for virtual GP appointments, all of our private GPs have extended opening times. You can now connect with them between 7am and 10pm Monday to Friday and between 8am and 6pm on Saturday and Sunday. 

Cliona Gallagher, an HCA UK GP, said: “Every GP isn’t fully booked every day, but it’s great to be able to offer that flexibility to patients, especially those who are trying to fit their doctor’s appointments around home schooling and work calls. Some days I have 20 virtual consultations and sometimes it’s less. I would say that around 80 per cent of my consultations have gone virtual during the last few months.” 

Once a patient has booked their appointment, and the time arrives for it to commence – all they have to do is follow the link sent to them via email, and the video consultation page should appear. Then, you click on the green phone icon – a similar to what you might see when you answer a regular mobile phone call – and this will connect you to your GP. 

Which health concerns can a GP see virtually?

Any concern, as long as it’s not life-threatening, can be investigated virtually by one of our private GPs. Cliona said: “When the pandemic began to peak, we had a lot of virtual patients with COVID-19 concerns. We also noticed an increase in mental health concerns – particularly after the UK lockdown was announced at the end of March. In the last few weeks, we have seen an increase in patients presenting with concerning skin lesions and potential cancer-related symptoms. At HCA Primary Care we are fortunate to have a direct access to our network of private hospitals, which allows for rapid investigation, diagnosis and treatment when needed.” 

Tom Brett, also an HCA UK GP, added: “We’ve also seen a lot of patients coming to us with muscle and back pain. People working from home are often not using appropriate desks and are not sitting in ergonomically designed chairs. For those patients, if appropriate, we will refer them to have a virtual consultation with one of our physiotherapists.” 

For some patients, COVID-19 has completely changed the way they would usually access their GP. Kelly Nevin, from Essex, commented: “I’ve had feelings of anxiety and depression in the past - usually triggered by an increased fear of myself or my loved ones becoming unwell. When the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK began, those previous feelings of anxiety and depression began to creep back in, so I knew that I needed to seek help. For me, leaving the house and getting on public transport to see my GP would be my worst nightmare, so having the consultation from the comfort of my own home was so wonderful.”  

Since the end of March 2020, Kelly has had a consultation with her GP every two weeks and has also been referred for virtual consultations with a clinical therapist. Kelly added: “Being able to see my regular doctor, someone who already knows my full medical history and having that continuity of care has been fantastic through this disruptive time. At first, I was concerned that the technology would be difficult to navigate as I’m not usually good with technology, but it was so simple”.  

Ideal for those not confident with technology

An HCA UK patient, who didn't wish to be identified, added: “I had seen my GP remotely before the COVID-19 pandemic, so for me the way I speak to my doctor hasn’t changed. It’s so easy to connect – it's a lot easier than other solutions out there, where you’re required to enter a username and a password. All I had to do was follow the secure link and my doctor appeared. I only needed to see my GP for reassurance about a potential insect bite, but it’s great that without leaving my home, I was able to receive advice and treat the issue.” 

Cliona said: “The patients I’ve spoken to haven’t had any technical issues, and I’m often speaking to a wide age range of patients. It’s such an easy solution to connect with.” 
 

What if a patient requires a referral or another service?

Patients can access almost everything virtually they would from a regular doctor’s appointment – a prescription, a sicknote and a referral can all be obtained. Prescriptions can either be posted to a patient’s home, faxed to a local pharmacy, or they can have the actual medication delivered to their home. The only thing not provided virtually are things like blood tests and for concerns regarding intimate parts of the body – these can only be seen by going into a GP practice.  

Tom added: “Whatever your health concern is, speak to your GP and they will suggest the right pathway. If your GP thinks it’s necessary to refer you to a consultant or for a scan - they are only referring you because they believe it is absolutely necessary – so it’s important you listen to them.” 

If you are required to visit one of our hospitals or clinics, we have put a number of safety measures in place to ensure they are a safe environment for your care. Commenting on whether she’d feel comfortable visiting one of our hospitals during this time, one of our patients added: “If I was asked to go into hospital I wouldn’t hesitate. I trust that my GP knows when I need to be referred to a hospital, and I also trust that the hospital is doing everything possible to keep me safe.” 

Don’t delay, get seen by a GP today...virtually

If you have a health concern – address it. Cliona concluded: “We don’t want the health impacts from lockdown to be worse than COVID-19 itself. It is so important that patients present to us, via a video consultation, as they would in person. Any concern – no matter how small – is worth recognising and doing something about.” 

To book a virtual consultation, download My HCA GP app on your Apple or Android device, call 020 8131 6211 or visit the website.
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