Remote GP consultation software use expanded across Fife

Published: Tuesday 21 Apr 2020

NHS Fife is expanding its use of a ground-breaking system that allows clinicians to consult with patients remotely.

Developed and tested in 2018 and 2019, the Near Me video consulting service was initially used mainly in the Highlands, where distances can be an issue. Now, its use is being rapidly escalated across Scotland as part of the Covid-19 response. All GP practices in the country – including those in Fife – are now equipped to use Near Me.

Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director, Scottish Government, said: “Near Me is proving to be an invaluable tool in the fight against coronavirus. It means people can receive urgent health care and advice remotely from the safety of their own home, without exposing them or NHS clinicians to infection risk. It’s also possible for GPs and other clinicians to use it from their home if they are at high risk of infection. Offering quick and easy access to health services without the need to travel is vital for patients, especially if they are self-isolating because of coronavirus. Near Me works exactly like a face-to-face meeting except that patients do not need to travel to see a GP.”

Remote consultations are being carried out in the first instance by telephone but Near Me is used if a video link is felt to be more appropriate. Patients offered a Near Me appointment at home will need to have a device for making a video call, such as a smartphone, tablet or computer with webcam, and a reliable internet connection. As with any other appointment, patients must first contact their GP practice and it will arrange for an appointment to be booked in the normal manner. This may be by telephone, virtual or face to face.

Clare Morrison, who helped to introduce the new system in NHS Highland, now co-leads the national Near Me programme. She said: “Patients and clinicians alike are finding Near Me to be an easy-to-use, secure resource which reduces the risk of Covid-19 exposure. When Near Me was first introduced, the aim was to improve access to services for patients. This included reducing travel to appointments, minimising the time taken off work to attend and making it easier for people who found it difficult to leave home. Reducing travel also has significant environmental benefit. All these aims remain important, but obviously the current focus on the use of Near Me is to reduce infection exposure.”

In Fife, one of the GPs using the system is Dr Alan Corstorphine, of the Newburgh and Abernethy practice, who said: “I have had a really positive experience of Near Me. I had been aware of the use of video consulting for some time but hadn’t really seen a role for it prior to coronavirus. However, I was keen to avoid unnecessary visits to patients while still maintaining a good quality of care and saw that Near Me was the answer.”

Dr Corstorphine is one of a number of GPs who have used Near Me from home, having had to self-isolate there because his wife had developed a cough but was later found not to have Covid-19. He added: “A number of my patients are socially isolated and are happy to see a face through Near Me. At times it can be difficult to reassure patients on the phone but it’s much easier when you can see them and they can see you. I also find that it’s particularly good for assessing children. I am able to see them moving and crawling around, which enables a level of triage you cannot get on the phone.”
 

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