"Our 'on-demand' society is currently witnessing a growing portfolio of apps and digital solutions to help tackle long waiting times for patients and reduce the pressure on the NHS. Technology is allowing for the provision of remote clinical services, via real-time two-way communication between the patient and the healthcare provider - although understandably there's still caution about its ability to replace the human touch.
But with the average waiting time for a patient to see a GP in the UK rising by 30% to nearly two weeks, there is clearly a need to cut down on in-person visits and telehealth certainly has the potential to provide much more than a sticking plaster to the situation.
Earlier this month (Friday 3 March) our industry regulator, the CQC (Care Quality Commission) issued a health check on the growing number of online prescribers and the ever expanding online primary care market.
As a healthcare entrepreneur and the co-founder of an online GP provider I completely concur with the sentiments of the CQC:
"Technological advances have brought opportunities to deliver healthcare in new ways, including online primary medical services. Potentially, this innovation allows patients easier access to care and treatment when they need it.
"We share a joint commitment to ensure that the same safeguards are in place for patients whether they attend a physical consultation with their GP or seek medical advice and treatment online."
Whilst 'phone consultations and email advice from a "family doctor" are becoming common practice, video consultations are less widely used. However, as seen in the States and Ireland (where VideoDoc was first launched 18 months ago) they are helping to eliminate waiting times, provide immediate diagnosis or second opinion and, when introduced into the workplace, can drastically help to reduce absenteeism.
It's an exciting phenomenon that British business can ill-afford to ignore - but, as highlighted by the CQC, it's only going to be taken seriously at this stage if everyone plays by the rules, puts the patients first and accepts that cutting corners is no trade-off for convenience.
VideoDoc is CQC registered and takes our role as a reputable healthcare advisor extremely seriously. Whether you're sitting two feet away from a patient in a consulting room or "seeing" your doctor online from the convenience of your desk at work, the doctor-patient relationship of trust is paramount.
Before the video consultation, patients fill out a form providing details of their own GPs and their personal medical history. While the consultation is taking place, the doctor is able to take a written record of what has been discussed (including recommendations for further investigation or referral) and will email, with the patient's consent, this information over to their doctor.
If the patient doesn't wish to share the medical notes made in the consultation, then they are stored on the VideoDoc app to be accessed at any time by the patient.
The typical demographic of our "digital doctor" should also reassure patients. Initially, we predicted that applicants would be young, tech-savvy doctors who were just starting out. Yet surprisingly 70% of doctors who applied to join our platform were either wanting to semi-retire or were "working- mums" trying to work around a busy childcare schedule. More experienced GPs are clearly confident in their own abilities and are able to diagnose someone through what they see or what the patient told them about their symptoms rather than the need to always see the patient in person."
Put simply, video consultations are convenient, on demand and benefiting businesses by helping to eliminate 'sick days' (and the huge cost of absenteeism on the nation's economy) for minor illnesses.
In my opinion, now is the perfect time to grow telehealth services to the UK. However, this will need to be in a way that doesn't completely disrupt the way the NHS works - after all, it will never fully replace face-to-face consultations but should complement and support an already overburdened and straining system.
As Professor Steve Field, Chief Inspector of General Practice at the CQC, said: "We know that these websites can present convenient ways for people to access advice, treatment and medication.
"As with conventional GP surgeries, these online companies and pharmacies are required to provide safe, high-quality and compassionate care and must adhere to exactly the same standards. They must not cut corners...Providers and clinicians must be clear on their responsibilities to protect people who use their services."
Only then will the telehealth industry be given a clean bill of health."