Remote GP consultations being escalated
The NHS in Scotland is ramping up its use of a ground-breaking system that allows clinicians to consult with patients remotely.
Developed and tested in 2018 and 2019, the Near Me video consulting service was initially used mainly in the Highlands, where distances can be an issue.
Now, its use is being rapidly escalated in Scotland as part of the Covid-19 response. All GP practices in the country – including those in Forth Valley – are now equipped to use Near Me and most are currently doing so.
Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director, Scottish Government, said: “Near Me is proving to be an invaluable tool in the fight against coronavirus. It means people can receive urgent health care and advice remotely from the safety of their own home, without exposing them or NHS clinicians to infection risk. It’s also possible for GPs and other clinicians to use it from their home if they are at high risk of infection.
“Offering quick and easy access to health services without the need to travel is vital for patients, especially if they are self-isolating because of coronavirus. Near Me works exactly like a face-to-face meeting except that patients do not need to travel to see a GP.”
The Scottish Government has been working to ensure that there is sufficient capacity to meet the growing demand for Near Me and is assuring patients and carers that it is an appropriate, effective and secure means of conducting remote consultations.
Remote consultations are being carried out in the first instance by telephone but Near Me is used if a video link is felt to be more appropriate.
Patients offered a Near Me appointment at home will need to have a device for making a video call, such as a smartphone, tablet or computer with webcam, and a reliable internet connection.
As with any other appointment, patients must first contact their GP practice and it will arrange for an appointment to be booked in the normal manner. This may be by telephone, virtual or face to face.
Clare Morrison, who helped to introduce the new system in NHS Highland, now co-leads the national Near Me programme.
She said: “Patients and clinicians alike are finding Near Me to be an easy-to-use, secure resource which reduces the risk of Covid-19 exposure.
“When Near Me was first introduced, the aim was to improve access to services for patients. This included reducing travel to appointments, minimising the time taken off work to attend and making it easier for people who found it difficult to leave home. Reducing travel also has significant environmental benefit. All these aims remain important, but obviously the current focus on the use of Near Me is to reduce infection exposure.”
While Near Me is being rolled out in general practice, it’s also been used in other disciplines. In NHS Forth Valley, one of those who has championed Near Me is physiotherapy team lead Nicky Butler. She has been using the system for the past year but she and her colleagues are now using it for all consultations other than those where face-to-face contact is absolutely necessary.
She said: “Covid-19 has completely changed the way we work but we are finding that our patients totally understand why it’s necessary to have video consultations. As physiotherapists, we obviously can’t touch patients but we can get them to move around so that we can see their range of movement and, obviously, we can give them advice and exercises to do at home.
“At the start we thought that we would have face-to-face consultations at the first appointment but we now find that is not necessary. Near Me works well and we will be using it more and more as the Covid situation continues.”
To use the system patients are given a link to a Near Me clinic and can start their video call from this link. The system checks that they have everything in place for a Near Me call and then asks the patient to enter his or her name and date of birth. The patient is then held in a secure waiting room until the clinician joins the video call. Once the clinician joins, the consultation takes place as normal.
Near Me is web-based and is powered by a video consulting platform called Attend Anywhere which was procured for national use across Scotland by the Scottish Government. Attend Anywhere is an Australian company that has been providing video consulting services in Australia for many years.
There were already plans in place to increase the use of Near Me in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated those plans but the expectation is that the system will continue to be used in order to make appointments more accessible for patients, both from home and from the workplace.