Telemedicine is one of the big items mentioned as why we need ubiquitous fast broadband that is suitable for things like two way video conferencing. Certainly if anyone produces a list of the cost benefits that a full fibre deployment will create telemedicine is very high up the list.

A recent telehealth initiative that aims to get 100,000 of us in the UK talking to our doctor over broadband by 2013, led us run a poll and see what the opinion of our visitors was like in this respect.

Poll Results: 59% think video confering with a health professional is a good idea

Poll Results: Do you think the idea of video conferencing with a health professional is a good idea?

The results show that while 56% of people think that a video conference with a health professional is a good idea, the fact that 30% think otherwise indicates that many are wary of this sort of move. Certainly while we are excited by the prospect of easier access to health professionals and their advice, there will be many for whom their condition requires various actual physical checks, or simply the person is uncomfortable talking to a random person over the Internet. Something that is beyond the scope of our quick polls, but should be considered is whether video conference consultations work better if the patient has previously met the person at the other end.

82% claim to have never contacted their GP or other health professional using Internet connection

Poll Results: Have you ever contacted your GP or other health professional using your Internet connection?

With basic email being used so heavily in day to day and business life the results of asking people whether they have ever contacted their GP or other health professional using their Internet connection gave a very surprising result. 82% claim to have never done so, and only 3% use the Internet frequently to do so. While this may be in part attributed to most of us not having need to be in contact with our local surgery, the suggestion is that even for routine stuff like making an appointment with the dentist we still use the telephone rather than an online system.

72% support reinvestment of savings through telemedicine to improve home visits

Poll Results: If telemedicine leads to savings (both time and money) for the Health Service, should these savings be invested in more home visits for those who need them?

One area that there appears to be over whelming support (72% support)  for is that if telemedicine does lead to the proposed savings, which appear to be the political driver behind the push is that for those who are actually require home visits to see more investment in this part of the health care regime. As more of the population year on year are living at home alone this becomes even more important to ensure that isolation and the potential for depression are avoided. The total immersion in the online world can mean that people will assume that daily contact via video conferencing will solve social isolation, and while it helps in the same way as a phone call to distant relatives helps, there is no substitute for someone visiting, and actually having the time to stay for a 20 minute chat after any ‘official’ business has been concluded.

The final question in our quick poll may not reflect the general population, as many of the visitors to thinkbroadband are likely to the tech literate and the sort of people who already use Skype to communicate with friends and family, but even so we still have 25% of those responding to our poll saying they have never carried out a two-way video chat.  Critics of the UK broadband infrastructure will be dissapointed to see that only 8% have tried and failed, we even gave the pointer that if your broadband was too slow to indicate this.

25% of people claim to have never used a two-way video chat

Poll Results: Now a general Internet usage question. Have you ever used your Internet connection for a two-way webcam video call? e.g. Skype, MSN, Yahoo etc

In summary it seems there should be no problem with video conferencing as a way of interacting with health professionals starting in 2013, plenty of people appear to support the idea. For telemedicine to gain acceptance though it needs to be done in a way that is not forced upon people, and that there is no dilution of the quality of care. There are many people among the retired population, who simply due to the facts that as we get older we all require more access to health resources who will not be comfortable without face to face contact with their local GP surgery, but with a wave of teenagers who know nothing but online interaction, things will be very different as they grow up, have families and hopefully look after us in our old age.





5 Responses

  1. PhilT on 26 Nov 2012

    I can book appointments and renew repeat prescriptions via a secure website, but my GP practice does not receive or send emails. May explain part of the story.

  2. Chris Conder on 26 Nov 2012

    Many can use skype, but the quality is so poor and pixelated they don’t bother with it much. It certainly isn’t good enough to use to talk to a doctor. Our local doctor is desperate to get it going as he can see the potential, but despite having a good connection at work at the surgery he has a pitiful one at home and so do his patients. I think it will save a lot of money for the NHS once everyone has a good connection, and doctors can diagnose much better and ask patients to come into surgery or dash out to visit them or ring an ambulance – video is far superior to audio, and better than a phone call. Also probably easier to get a conference than an appointment… its like finding rocking horse whatsit to get one round here. Our receptionists are demons. ;) (only joking sheila)

  3. andrew on 27 Nov 2012

    @chris the final pie chart includes those, 8% said they have tried but failed, we even pointed out that this should include those whose broadband is too slow.

  4. mervl on 30 Nov 2012

    The aspect that is often forgotten is medical liability insurance, which is a vital consideration for GPs as all other professionals (almost as important as patient welfare). Caution is the order of the day, and if a doctor misses something in a telemedicine consultation then will they have a defence? It’s the fear and perception as always, and it’s what frustrated NHS Direct.

  5. mervl on 01 Dec 2012

    Actually the question I’d like to see asked is “would you be prepared to accept that a telemedicine consultation is at your risk, and that you can make no claim against your doctor for anything missed in such a consultation”? The survey would then be of more practical use, rather than the “would you like your wishes to come true” sort of question. Strangely, although I’m no fan of telemedicine I would be prepared to do so, since I think health should be our individual responsibility and not that of the GP; and there;s too much blame-game. If the internet can make us all more responsible, so much the better.

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