The Department of Health wants to give doctors incentives to carry out online consultations; but it will be up to GP practices to decide what technology they use.
NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh told EHI Primary Care that practices must decide how best to use available technology.
He was responding to questions about a debate this week about the use of the software application Skype for doctor-patient consultations.
Sir Bruce told the Times newspaper that the DH was drawing up plans to introduce online consultations as part of its plans to encourage greater use of technology in the NHS.
He did not use the word Skype, and instead told the paper: “I am looking at how we can put levers into the system to encourage doctors to do online consultations.
"Once you have online consultation it breaks down geographical barriers. It opens up the spectre of 24/7 access.”
Online consultations would fit with the government’s plans to scrap GP practice boundaries from April 2012.
Some technology commentators think Skype offers benefits over email or telephone consultations, since it enables patients and clinicians to also see each other.
However, the use of Skype is unlikely to be prescribed in any incentives for online consultations.
Sir Bruce told EHI Primary Care: “Technology and expectations will collide to make greater use of on-line technology an inevitability.
"This technology is a tool. It is up to individual practices to decide how best to use it. I simply want to stimulate the debate."
Dr Laurence Buckman, chair of the BMA’s GP committee, told the Times that many GPs would be happy with Skype consultations.
However, he suggested the service would be more useful for patients already known to the consulting doctor.
A spokesperson for the DH told EHI Primary Care that the government’s information strategy would provide more information about online consultations when it is published.
She added: “The 'Information Revolution' consultation responses and the NHS Future Forum discussions with stakeholders will inform the development of the future information strategy, which will be published this winter."
© 2011 EHealth Media.
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