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GPs brand idea of virtual doctor E-Consultations "premature"

The UK government is planning to introduce e-consultations where patients would receive diagnoses via email from their GPs – but some doctors have criticised the plans.

Academic GP registrar and honorary clinical research fellow at Imperial College London Dr Emma Richards claims the programme lacks credibility as there is “no clear evidence” to support it.

“No evidence shows that email communication with patients is effective in improving access or saving money,” claimed Dr Richards in an article for The BMJ (opens in new tab).

Her arguments against email communication for GPs and patients centre on studies that concluded such consultations increase doctor workload and offer no real benefits to patients over meeting face-to-face.

“Given the complexities of using email and understandable caution among GPs, it seems premature to be insisting that patients can have email communications with GPs,” claimed Dr Richards.

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“The Department of Health (DoH) should first issue clear guidance on what can safely and appropriately be communicated by email and what resources are needed,” she added.

However, Elinor Gunning, Health Education North Central and East London clinical teaching fellow, has offered her support for e-consultations.

“The addition of email services has the potential increase GPs workloads, but if the service is well planned and managed then email can be a more efficient way to manage some routine conditions and requests than traditional methods,” Gunning claimed.

“GPs and our professional bodies, as experts in our patients’ care, should embrace the use of email to develop a safe and effective service.

“Although more research, investment and official guidelines are needed, sufficient strategies already exist to support the safe implementation of email services,” she added.

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