Online GPs could deliver cost savings for UK businesses of up to £1.5bn, according to a new report from Axa PPP healthcare.
The report – Digital health: the changing landscape of how we access GP services – highlights the role that online and telephone services can play in boosting efficiencies across business and healthcare. It says significant savings can be made on the time it takes employees to travel to face-to-face medical appointments.
The findings, produced by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), reveal that UK businesses could have avoided £1.5 billion in lost working time in 2019 if, workers opted to use remote GP services instead.
Axa PPP healthcare says that in 2019, 13 per cent of NHS GP appointments in England were held over the phone, and less than 1 per cent were made using online video tools.
Not surprisingly, there has been a sea-change in these figures since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the Royal College of General Practitioners in the four weeks leading up to April 12 this year, 71 per cent of routine GP consultations were delivered remotely.
The report notes that there is potential to boost remote GP access, even when the immediate threat of the coronavirus pandemic has receded. It says that while face-to-face consultations remain necessary in some cases, many patients could receive appropriate care via an online consultation, especially as a first point of call.
In fact, the CEBR estimates that, had ‘virtual’ GP appointments been offered as a first point of call across all public GP practices in 2019, the number of face-to-face consultations could have been reduced by 50 million.
The report also shows that online GPs could also help to reduce the number of cancelled appointments and ‘no shows’. According to NHS Digital, one in 20 (5 per cent) GP appointments were recorded as ‘Did Not Attend’ in 2019.
Figures from Axa PPP healthcare’s poll show that one most common reasons for cancelling a GP appointment was work commitments taking over, cited by 28 per cent of respondents.
Axa PPP says that by allowing patients to book, amend and cancel appointments easily, plus giving them flexibility to book times that are suitable to them, online GPs could help reduce these ‘Did Not Attend’ figures.
The same poll from AXA PPP healthcare reveals that two-fifths of working UK adults (41 per cent) needed to take half a day or more off work to attend a face-to-face appointment with their GP in the last 12 months.
The potential of remote health services and the ease with which they could become integrated into the current healthcare system has become more apparent in the current circumstances.
UK consumer seem to think there’s promise in such services too, with over half (54 per cent) of the adults surveyed by Axa PPP agreeing that, in the future, speaking to a GP online will become as normal as banking online.
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic there has been a significant increase in the number of private medical insurers and group risk providers offering digital GP services as part of their workplace propositions.
Axa PPP healthcare deputy chief medical officer, Dr Arup Paul says: “While the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the commitment and dedication of those working in healthcare, it also brings into focus the challenges of meeting patients’ needs.
“As a result we’ve a unique opportunity to look at how innovation in the healthcare sector can help to meet these needs, both now and in the future. The report illustrates that the adoption of such services not only benefits patients and the healthcare sector, but businesses too, with gains for both in terms of efficiencies and productivity.”
Dr Kate Bunyan, chief medical officer at private online GP provider Doctor Care Anywhere, which supports the delivery of Axa PPP healthcare’s Doctor@Hand service, adds: “Our purpose is to improve people’s lives. We aim to provide high quality care, through offering online GP services at a time and place that’s convenient to all. The more the healthcare sector can unlock such services, the more we can collectively support patient demand.”