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Sign in for a check-up: British hospital first to use Skype for consultations

A British hospital is to become the first in Europe to use Skype for patient consultations.

University Hospital in North Staffordshire will use the app to reduce patient wait times by up to 35 per cent, managers claim.

If approved, Skype usage would also free up car parking spaces and help patients unable to take time off work.

The new initiative is part of a selection of schemes drawn up to relieve pressure on the hospital, which has experienced a great increase in demand. The Skype consultation scheme is being backed by health campaigners.

"So long as the patient is confident using the system it sounds superb," said Ian Syme, coordinator of pressure group North Staffordshire Healthwatch, "but with vastly growing numbers of silver surfers, it must not be restricted to the young."

Equally, some users might be worried about their privacy while using the service. Recent news of GCHQ hacking into private Yahoo conversations, for instance, has raised concerns that vulnerable patients could be being watched without their consent during a personal consultation.

Patients waiting for a formal discharge after routine surgery could use the Skype service, but those requiring face-to-face contact would still be called in to the hospital.

Plans are at an early stage, but the scheme has the potential to reduce the hospital's annual 517,000 outpatient appointments by 35 per cent.

Chief executive Mark Hackett said: "We have to look at trying to harness new forms of technology. For example we also need to remove paper records and stop having lots of clerks filling in pieces of paper."

In 2012 the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS) said how Skype could reduce the number of missed GP appointments. Member of the union Dr Barry Parker pointed out though that "the medico-legal pitfalls of Skype consultations are not yet fully apparent."

"The key issue for doctors will be to recognise when this mode of consultation is not sufficient to properly assess the patient and address the problem, and to arrange a face-to-face consultation instead."

Skype is already used by one hospital in North Wales to allow kidney patients to use dialysis machines at home.

Image: Flickr, Derek Law