A major international survey of GPs has identified the benefits and challenges of remote patient care.
Data from more than 1,600 primary care physicians in 20 countries, collected between June and September 2020, highlighted that while digital care delivery has brought a range of positive outcomes, including reduced risk of COVID-19 transmission and ensuring continuity of care during the pandemic, GPs also cited a number of concerns.
These included the risk of deepening health inequalities by excluding people who do not have access to digital technologies, and delays in diagnosis and treatment due to the inability to perform physical examinations.
Led by Imperial College London, this is the first study of its kind to explore GPs’ perceptions of virtual consultations, offering unique insight into the impact of the shift to digital care, driven by the pandemic, on the experience of patients and healthcare providers.
“It is imperative to learn from the experiences of general practitioners around the world to develop policies around these new technologies and improve their use.” Edmond Li Institute for Global Health Innovation
Authors from the Institute of Global Health Innovation, in collaboration with other international partners, offer key recommendations for translating the findings into practical strategies to improve the quality and safety of remote care. These include continuous monitoring of people’s experiences and quality of care, flexibility in developing health technology policies that respond to the changing needs of healthcare providers and patients, and a coherent long-term strategic commitment.
The results were published in PLOS Digital Health.
Edmond Li, study author from the Institute of Global Health Innovation, said, “Virtual care tools have been proven to support the delivery of many primary care services while minimizing the transmission of COVID-19 and some of its consequences. However, as our research has shown, these benefits were not without accompanying challenges, such as the digital exclusion of certain patient groups, patient preferences for in-person consultations, and patient burnout. healthcare provider professional.
“It is imperative to learn from the experiences of general practitioners around the world to develop policies around these new technologies and improve their use in our ever-changing healthcare environment.”
Gathering GP views on digital care
Although virtual care – such as phone consultations and online appointments – has been used for decades, the pandemic has quickly ushered in a new era of digital healthcare.
To assess the impact of this on GP care, researchers from the Institute of Global Health Innovation established a global collaboration of primary care researchers across 20 countries*. Collaborators in each country invited GPs to complete a survey on their use and experience of virtual care during COVID-19.
The benefits identified by the team included reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19, ensuring access and continuity of care, greater efficiency, faster access to care, better communication with patients and greater work flexibility for care providers.
“Processes must ensure that patients are presented with alternative options during their journey.” Dr. Ana Luisa Neves Institute for Global Health Innovation
The data also identified challenges, including patient preferences for face-to-face consultations, digital exclusion of certain groups including the elderly and vulnerable, and diagnostic challenges related to the inability to perform tests. physical. GPs also reported practical challenges such as higher workloads, payment issues and technical difficulties.
Dr Ana Luisa Neves, Advanced Research Fellow at the Institute of Global Health Innovation, said: “The technological and regulatory landscape is dynamic, and so are patient preferences. Virtual care platforms must be secure and reliable, but also flexible enough to adapt to changing contextual, regulatory and professional requirements – and processes must ensure that patients are presented with alternative options along their journey. .
The authors concluded, “Learning from this global natural experiment is essential both for updating existing policies and for introducing new health technology policies regarding virtual primary care.
*Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States
Title of the publication: General practitioners’ perceptions of the use of virtual primary care during the COVID-19 pandemic: an international cross-sectional survey study
Visit the PLOS Digital Health website to download the document.