Human contact: do we need it in medical practice?

Published on Aug 26, 2021in British Journal of General Practice4.19
· DOI :10.3399/BJGP21X716933
David Zigmond3
Estimated H-index: 3
Have rapid advances in IT, and the necessary coronavirus restrictions, rendered traditional face-to-face medical consultations largely redundant? Here are the views of three doctors: one younger, publicly on television; two older, more privately. In the third week of April 2020, already deep into our long COVID-19 maelstrom, a young female GP, Dr YW, was briefly interviewed for BBC2’s Newsnight . She was fresh, direct, and warmly personable, and was introduced as, also, a newspaper journalist and thus (presumably) a part-time, ‘portfolio’ GP — a new and increasing breed of doctor better able to survive the otherwise unsustainable burdens of contemporary primary care. Portfolios may be rich in opportunities; they rarely commit, longer-term, to any community. Dr YW was asked how, in her experience, was general practice coping with the current crisis? Her response was remarkably positive and optimistic: in her neck of the woods, she said, there was no crisis, in fact — paradoxically — the current challenges had improved many essential services in primary care. How could this be so? Dr YW readily fired off her upbeat explanations: GPs had rapidly learned to increase their use of digital and IT devices to almost entirely replace the need for personal or physical contact with either patients or staff: ‘In a couple of weeks we have learned, changed and thus advanced more than in the previous decade.’ Almost all traditional face-to-face appointments could be replaced by emails, texts, and audio-visual phone calls. Consequently, at a stroke, much of the infrastructure and adjunctive services could be drastically reduced, if not eliminated: the large, costly premises with waiting areas, the numerous consulting rooms, and the reception staff. This unencumbered service has consequently become more manoeuvrable and (virtually) accessible. Teleworking professional staff can opt in to staggered work rotas providing vastly increased (virtual) consultation …
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