By Dave Edwards
Since Covid-19 hit the UK early this year, health care organisations have moved services online at a dramatic pace. This has ushered in a significant change in practise with virtual consultations taking centre stage. As a pharmacist working in primary care, I have always been an advocate of face-to-face patient consultations and a little sceptical of anything virtual where rapport with the patient and non-verbal cues could be adversely affected. Adapting to the pandemic response has, however, shifted my perspective totally.
A focus on respiratory conditions
Becoming an independent prescriber in a cluster of GP practices in South Pembrokeshire and running respiratory clinics has given me new opportunities to help patients.
Well controlled asthma is the key to better health and wellbeing. We know that a patient with a long-term condition is four times more likely to be admitted to hospital and that almost 50% of the increase in winter hospital admissions are patients with an existing respiratory condition. Evidence shows that increasing patients’ knowledge of their condition, prescribing according to guidelines and having a management plan in case of the condition worsening are the key factors in keeping these patients well and away from unscheduled care.
In the current climate, the only way to deliver reviews for these patients was through virtual consultations, either by phone or video link app, either from the patients’ surgery or elsewhere via access to EMIS. To evaluate the service, I asked every patient to fill out a feedback form.
My learning to date
I’ve used these tools for six months now and have learnt a great deal more about patient engagement. I no longer harbour my initial concerns about working remotely and many of my patients have admitted they would happily choose virtual consultations going forward. Feedback from patients has also indicated that in the main, my virtual consultations are as effective as face to face consultations. One patient recently reported: “This is the first review of this type that I have had and it has changed my situation substantially. I cannot overstate how much of a difference it has made having access to this service”. Says it all really!
The impact on my practise is positive too. I feel that I can manage my time more effectively and patients are generally more relaxed and open during consultations, allowing for a more meaningful consultation.
A virtual future?
I still maintain that there is an important place for face to face consultations, perhaps the first review or when the patient is poorly controlled. However, the pandemic has highlighted that there is a place for virtual consultations and all the advantages to the patient that they confer. I recently read the future view of pharmacy by RPS which calls for virtual consultation tools and equipment for pharmacists in all settings. This makes complete sense to me. Our future as pharmacists depends on additional flexibility and it is important to embrace these changes.
If you are concerned about virtual consultations, please be assured it only takes a small shift in perspective. The training offered by the RPS also helps you to find your feet!