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Comparing the content and quality of video, telephone, and face-to-face consultations: a non-randomised, quasi-experimental, exploratory study in UK primary care

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Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Early online date2 Jul 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Jul 2019


BACKGROUND: Growing demands on primary care services have led to policymakers promoting video consultations (VCs) to replace routine face-to-face consultations (FTFCs) in general practice.

AIM: To explore the content, quality, and patient experience of VC, telephone (TC), and FTFCs in general practice.

DESIGN AND SETTING: Comparison of audio-recordings of follow-up consultations in UK primary care.

METHOD: Primary care clinicians were provided with video-consulting equipment. Participating patients required a smartphone, tablet, or computer with camera. Clinicians invited patients requiring a follow-up consultation to choose a VC, TC, or FTFC. Consultations were audio-recorded and analysed for content and quality. Participant experience was explored in post-consultation questionnaires. Case notes were reviewed for NHS resource use.

RESULTS: Of the recordings, 149/163 were suitable for analysis. VC recruits were younger, and more experienced in communicating online. FTFCs were longer than VCs (mean difference +3.7 minutes, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 2.1 to 5.2) or TCs (+4.1 minutes, 95% CI = 2.6 to 5.5). On average, patients raised fewer problems in VCs (mean 1.5, standard deviation [SD] 0.8) compared with FTFCs (mean 2.1, SD 1.1) and demonstrated fewer instances of information giving by clinicians and patients. FTFCs scored higher than VCs and TCs on consultation-quality items.

CONCLUSION: VC may be suitable for simple problems not requiring physical examination. VC, in terms of consultation length, content, and quality, appeared similar to TC. Both approaches appeared less 'information rich' than FTFC. Technical problems were common and, though patients really liked VC, infrastructure issues would need to be addressed before the technology and approach can be mainstreamed in primary care.

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