Doctors could Skype patients to save time and money.

Online video calling such as Skype could be used for GPs consultations with patients and save the NHS money, legal advisers have said.


Patients in rural areas or those with disabilities could use Skype to talk to their GP ‘face-to-face’ without having to leave their own home

By , Medical Editor

4:44PM GMT 12 Nov 2012

Providing doctors are aware of the limitations of the technology and are careful that the video link in secure, video calling could reduce the number of missed GP appointments, a medical legal organisation has said.

Patients in rural areas or those with disabilities could use Skype to talk to their GP ‘face-to-face’ without having to leave their own home, the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland said in advice to doctors.

The organisation provides indemnity insurance and legal advice to members.

Ministers are thought to be keen on ways new technology can be used in the NHS to speed up treatment and save money without compromising patient safety and confidentiality.

Some doctors already use email to communicate with patients and many GP practices allow online appointment booking.

Medical adviser Dr Barry Parker said: ‘‘The concept of holding consultations via Skype is an interesting development, which may have clear advantages in terms of convenience for patients and doctors.’

“Seeing your doctor in a safe and convenient way in the comfort of your own home may appeal to some patients.

‘‘Skype consultations may potentially be better than telephone advice calls, in that the patient can see who they are talking to, aiding communication, and the doctor can gain an overall impression of the patient’s condition.

However he warned that in some circumstances a video call would not be good enough, if for example a physical examination were required.

He added: “Doctors would have to avoid over reliance on this method of consulting given the limited scope for any examination of patients.

“Even with good picture quality, observation of skin conditions, for example, is likely in most cases to be much better at face-to-face than Skype consultations, and examination beyond superficial observation will be impossible.

“The medico-legal pitfalls of Skype consultations are not yet fully apparent as it is a recent development, but it is anticipated that some of these will be similar to telephone advice. The key issue for doctors will be to recognise when this mode of consultation is not sufficient to properly assess the patient and address the problem, and to arrange a face-to-face consultation instead.”

Guidance from the General Medical Council says doctors should examine the patient where necessary.

Dr Parker said: “If a practice was to promote the use of Skype then there would need to be relevant information available to patients in the form of leaflets or posters, so they have an understanding of how it works and the process runs smoothly.

“It would be important, for example, to emphasise that the doctor would always initiate a call, allowing them to control communications and avoiding potential technical difficulties with incoming calls. Patients should also be aware of issues of confidentiality.

“Records should, of course, be kept to the same standard as other consultations.”