Most people would not rule out a consultation with their GP via webcam, research for the Astellas Innovation DebateTM has found.
In a survey for the Astellas Innovation Debate on 29th January, almost a fifth (18%) of the 2,000 people questioned said they would be happy to have a GP consultation via a webcam on their phone or computer in any circumstances. Perhaps surprisingly, willingness to have a "virtual consultation" is highest among older people, the survey suggests: just 7% of under 25's would be happy to have a webcam conversation with their GP, compared to 22% of the over 55s.
A further 41% said they would be happy to see their GP via webcam in some circumstances. Of these, 72% said they would be happy to have a webcam consultation to order a repeat prescription, and 71% would be happy to receive test results in this way.
Two thirds (65%) of people would be happy to discuss a minor ailment via webcam, and six in ten (60%) would discuss an ongoing condition in this way. However, some 42% said they would only consider an online appointment if it meant they were guaranteed an appointment that day.
And when it comes to embarrassing conditions, it seems face-to-face consultation becomes more important, with only 18% of people wanting to discuss a problem such as head lice or a rash via webcam.
Among the reasons given by the third (33%) of people who would not be happy to have a GP consultation via webcam were: they wanted to discuss their condition properly face to face (70%); they needed a physical examination (55%), or they were concerned that a serious illness might not get identified if they spoke to their GP electronically (38%). Just 14% said it was because they didn't have access to a webcam or the internet.
Commenting on the survey findings, the doctor and broadcaster, Dr Kevin Fong, said:
"The digital revolution has changed the way we think about most forms of human interaction, including our relationship with our doctors. It seems that people are more willing to embrace new ways of accessing health services than the medical profession sometimes assumes.
"What's particularly interesting about the Astellas Innovation Debate research is that we tend to think of younger people as the most digitally literate, but it's the over-55s who are most willing to interact with their doctors via webcam."
At present only 3% of GP's offer patients consultations via webcam, although 36% plan to start doing so over the next three years as the NHS gears up to go paperless. However, 62% of GP's said that, they were unlikely to be able to offer online patient consultation by 2018.