GPs seeking advice from medical consultants by video calls ‘should be the norm’
Video calls with medical consultants from local GP practices should become the norm for modern healthcare systems, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said.
Mr Donnelly was at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin to launch a progress report on the Sláintecare Integration Fund, which was set up to provide funding for projects aimed at improving community-based healthcare and keeping people out of hospital.
He outlined how video consultations should be more utilised in GP practices, giving the example of an existing project in Wicklow.
“The patient comes into their GP with a more complex issue than the GP would normally be able to deal with and he or she does a video call with one of the teams here [in the hospital] — one of the consultants — and says ‘this is my patient, what do you think, should I try the following things?’,” he said.
“Essentially, the GP and therefore the patient is getting consultant-level care in their community, in their GP practice, without having to wait sometimes far too long.”
Mr Donnelly said there has been great feedback from patients and doctors regarding an ongoing video call project in Bray, Co. Wicklow. He said that moving towards universal healthcare was a key goal for the Government and that projects, such as video calls, within the Sláintecare reform programme for the health service would help achieve this target.
The Sláintecare Integration Fund was launched in 2019 with €20 million ringfenced for the delivery of innovative projects that would help to reduce waiting lists, waiting times and deliver care in the community. According to the Department of Health, the fund resulted in 19,000 inpatient bed days being avoided, 8,000 patients being seen from lists and 3,000 emergency department attendances avoided.
Mr Donnelly said the “net had been cast very wide” across the healthcare community for such projects.
“We have to take a very open mind and say we will fund and scale up the projects that work,” he said. “And then we’ll create a new fund and go again.
“And it’s why we have to continue with this process. Yes, we’re going to scale up a lot of the projects in here. We have to keep funding and keep promoting this kind of innovation because ultimately what we’re seeing in this report is the future of healthcare in Ireland.”
However, the report on the project’s implementation also pinpointed a number of challenges to the projects, including recruitment and resourcing.
It said: “Almost half (49%) of projects identified recruitment of key project personnel as a challenge to their project delivery. A number of projects stated that due to the short duration and the type of contract on offer this reduced the candidate.”
And while some projects embraced being online, some 20% noted a significant challenge in not being able to engage face-to-face, the report added.