Online Consultation Systems: The patient perspective

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GP offering an online consultation

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, this qualitative exploration delves into the firsthand experiences of patients utilising Online Consultation Services (OCS) in primary care, shedding light on evolving attitudes and the impact on patient care

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on RCGP

During and after the pandemic’s peak, a majority of patients perceived OCS as a swifter, more flexible, and more efficient alternative to traditional consulting methods. Yet, some have since expressed a desire for a return to the familiar routes of telephone and in-person visits

Patient voices: Adapting to OCS

Patient voices echoed through the OCS, with most welcoming the freedom to communicate with their GP in free text. While some saw this as a positive enhancement to clinical safety, others raised concerns. The OCS acted as a preferred platform for discussions on sensitive topics, contrasting with those who favoured in-person consultations. Surprisingly, patients with verbal communication challenges found solace in the OCS, while those with attention disorders faced unique challenges. Male patients showcased a higher likelihood of OCS usage, and older patients found the system surprisingly user-friendly.

Aligning with pre-COVID-19 international research, the study revealed high patient satisfaction with OCS. Yet, a subgroup emerged with evolving negative sentiments post-pandemic, expressing a preference for traditional in-person appointments due to concerns about clinical safety and a perceived lack of personal connection.

Building on prior research, the study identified benefits for specific patient groups, including those with hearing loss, anxiety, work commitments, or care responsibilities. Additionally, male patients and those with autistic spectrum disorder emerged as potential beneficiaries, with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder presenting a unique challenge.

Optimising OCS experience

The findings emphasise the pivotal role of GP practices in shaping the OCS experience. Recommendations include clear communication, adherence to good OCS etiquette, and fair management of OCS availability. Insights into patient preferences and concerns pave the way for refining OCS features and GP practice implementations.

This comprehensive study offers a pioneering glimpse into patient experiences with OCS, providing vital insights for ongoing enhancements in British primary care. To read the full report and recommendations, click here.

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