Doctors to see patients by video link
Patients will routinely be able to consult with doctors over the internet from their own homes within “a year rather than a decade”, the medical director of the NHS has said.
Sir Bruce Keogh said that using emerging video internet technology he could envisage an NHS that was “available 24-7”.
High-speed broadband – essential to internet video calling – could allow people to consult international experts or to take advantage of out-of-hours care provided by overseas doctors in another time zone, he said.
Such technology would lessen the need for a “geographical connection” between GPs and their patients, while it would also enable doctors to conduct what he called “virtual ward rounds”.
Sir Bruce, who as a cardiac surgeon persuaded his colleagues to make their success rates public, was speaking at the Government’s launch of its plans to make all state data available online.
He said the NHS had to adapt because “young people won’t put up with having to travel to a doctor and wait 20 minutes when they can just use the web to talk directly to a doctor”.
Patients for whom such “telehealth” services might be useful included those who needed to see a specialist about a chronic condition such as diabetes, or those with visible conditions like skin complaints.
Some doctors are already trialling services online, but in rural areaswhere the benefits would be most apparent, poor broadband infrastructure is holding back progress.
Sir Bruce acknowledged that the NHS had yet to lay out a “national vision” for digital access, but he said that it would happen in the future.
As well as being better for patients, he argued that in the long term it would be cheaper and more efficient for the NHS.
In Northern Ireland, he said, a group of neurologists had found using new technology was “cheaper and the patients like it more”.
However, he also acknowledged that his plans would “open up a whole heap of financial issues”.
High-speed broadband connections are already being used to monitor older people who are able to stay in their own homes with remote supervision.
The new telehealth technologies are one reason why the Government has allocated £530 million to spend on improving broadband in the UK by 2015.
Frances Maude, Cabinet Office Minister, said that plans to release data about all NHS performance, including GPs as well as surgery, would allow patients to be more selective about their treatment.
The British Medical Association is leading a project to present data on GP performance.
The Government is set to announce how superfast broadband networks, essential for high-quality video consultations, will be funded next week. Each county is set to be allocated an amount of money based on the geographical challenges it faces.
Tags: Conservatives, Doctors, Health, IT disaster, National Health Service, NHS