Here are the pros and cons of booking a digital doctor's appointment

Using online appointments
Using online appointments

With some patients having to wait weeks to see a GP, it’s no surprise that consulting a ‘digital doctor’ has soared in popularity.

With some patients having to wait weeks to see a GP, it’s no surprise that consulting a ‘digital doctor’ has soared in popularity.

“For minor, straightforward complaints, digital consultations can work well, especially in terms of offering patients quicker and easier access,” says Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP). “Ideally, digital consultations will become one of several ways patients can choose to access their GP practice, but it shouldn’t be the only way as they won’t be suitable for all patients or all conditions.”

The pros

1. Convenience

Digital consultations - whether delivered online via text-based services or via a tablet or smartphone as a video consultation - can be convenient for some people. They offer quick and easy access for patients with straightforward health complaints, usually within a few hours, from home or from work.

2. Good for GP morale

Dr Bayju Thakar, founder of Doctor Care Anywhere, says: “Digital appointments give clinicians the flexibility they need to achieve a better work-life balance, helping to maintain their passion for clinical excellence and patient care.”

3. Gives a second opinion and can direct to appropriate care

Digital GPs can help direct patients to emergency care if they present with more serious problems or health issues that can’t be dealt with digitally.

The cons

1. Not suitable for all patients and complaints

Digital consultations aren’t right for everyone, particularly those with complex health needs, as well as patients who might not be tech-savvy and could prefer to access their GP surgery in person. Thakar estimates digital care can deal with around three-quarters of health problems presented at GP clinics - but he stresses they shouldn’t be used for emergency health problems, or those which require close physical examination: “If you have difficulty breathing, severe chest pains, suspected strokes or seizures, or severe mental health concerns like suicidal thoughts, you shouldn’t be turning to digital appointments.”

2. Cost

Digital GP appointments can be costly, rather than free face-to-face consultations with a GP. Babylon Health, for example, charges £9.99 a month for unlimited appointments, or £49 for a one-off appointment. Doctor Care Anywhere wants £12 a month for unlimited appointments, or £60 for one appointment.

3. No human touch

Thakar says: “If you’ve had a very bleak prognosis, sometimes you need someone in the room with you. Digital appointments needn’t be impersonal, but part of the point of digital appointments is that they free-up time for those who need that in-person face time.”