In the Summer issue of International Therapist magazine, Dr Michael Dixon, chair of the College of Medicine and social prescribing lead for England, discussed the unexpected benefits of virtual consultations…
As an NHS GP I often envy the very positive relationships that so many of my therapist colleagues enjoy with the patients at our practice. I also envy the amount of time that the therapists can spend with the patient, which enables them to build up a friendly rapport. Too often medical consultations are designed to do the opposite, with our limited consultation time providing the underlying message, ‘you are not worth it’.
Having been a GP for well over 35 years, I can compensate a little because I have known many of my patients for a long time, if not decades. The sum effect of ten-minute consultations, three or so times a year, over many years – as well as delivering babies, caring for relatives or attending emergencies – enables me to build a relationship with these patients that can withstand the time pressures of an average GP consultation. It has also made virtual consultations during COVID-19 more effective, because I know the patient well.
Things are different when it comes to virtual consultations with patients that I have never met before. Before COVID-19, I would find this ‘Doc in a box’ type of consultation quite frustrating because it limited my ability to really understand what was going on or to provide a comprehensive answer to the patient’s problems.
However, the move from face-to-face to virtual consultations as a result of COVID-19 has enabled me to have much longer ‘appointments’ than before and this has been a huge learning experience for me. I have found that if you give sufficient time to a virtual consultation you can discover a great deal about a patient, and the more they feel listened to and understood, the more effective the treatment, suggestions or reassurance you provide.
Furthermore, for the first time in my medical career, I have begun to enjoy these consultations because they now provide the mutual returns of a relationship, despite being virtual.
General practice will never be the same after COVID-19 and many consultations that were previously face-to-face will take place online or over the phone. That is less likely to happen for therapists, where physical presence, touch and intonation, for instance, are all so important in the treatment.
For me, the lesson has been that time really does matter and, paradoxically, virtual consultations may allow me more time for my other patients, and the potential to continue ongoing relationships with patients in a cost-effective way.
Dr Michael Dixon, LVO, OBE, is a GP, chair of the College of Medicine (collegeofmedicine.org.uk) and national clinical champion for social prescribing. He was chair of the NHS Alliance for 17 years and is a past president of NHS Clinical Commissioners.
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This article was published in Summer 2020 issue of FHT’s membership magazine, International Therapist. To find out more about the many benefits of being an FHT member, visit www.fht.org.uk/join-us