Virtual GP’s could save UK businesses £1.5bn and reduce NHS GP appointments by 50 million

According to new report from AXA PPP Healthcare, online GP’s could deliver up to £1.5bn of savings for UK businesses.

Their report, which focuses around how online and telephone services can boost efficiencies across business and healthcare states significant savings can be made on the time it takes employees to travel to face-to-face medical appointments.

The figure of £1.5bn is derived from the total loss of working time in 2019, which could have been avoided if UK employees accessed online services instead.  These figures which have been produced by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) are striking, and further support the forward march of telemedicine.

AXA report that in 2019, 13% of NHS GP appointments in England were held over the phone, but less than 1% were made using online video calls.  The CEBR estimates that had virtual/online GP appointments been offered as a first access point across all GP practices, the number of face-to-face consultations could have been reduced by 50 million!

It is well-documented that virtual GP appointments aren’t always the appropriate route and that sometimes a physical examination is necessary, however, the AXA report supports that receiving appropriate assistance via an online setting yields many benefits.

One of the major issues in the NHS GP setting is that of cancellations, or worse still, “no shows”.  In some ways, because people don’t pay for their GP appointments, the perceived value to them is zero, meaning that there’s little by way of discouragement or penalty when they don’t turn up for an appointment.  The reality of course, is that GP appointments DO cost something, whether people turn up or not.  This means that not only is it a poke in the eye to the UK taxpayer, but it also makes that slot unavailable to someone else who may be in greater need.

AXA’s report states that 28% of respondents cite the main reason for cancellations or simply not turning up to appointments was due to work commitments taking over.  And when you consider that 41% of UK adults need to take a half day or more off work to attend a face-to-face GP appointment, you can start to appreciate just how big the opportunity is to improve things.

Technology is playing an ever increasing role in the healthcare space as part of an integrated journey from sickness to health, and whilst this has been limited over the past few years to the “early adopters”, the recent COVID-19 pandemic will have helped to kick-start the wider population, especially UK businesses.

Of course many employers have included telemedicine as part of their Employee Benefits provision for some time, but there are still HR functions or organisations as a whole who find it difficult to convince key stakeholders of the return on investment.

It is now becoming more clear than ever of the tripartite benefit on offer;

Employee – Speedy access to GP, faster diagnosis, improved recovery

Employer – Less down time for staff, lower absence rates, improved productivity

Society – Less stain on NHS GP’s, lower cost to NHS as patients routed via employee benefit provision, more NHS availability and capacity to those who genuinely need face-to-face GP time.

As consumers in a technological world, we order taxis and meals from the palm of our hand with little thought, but there has been some reluctance with healthcare, which can feel a bit too important to sort out via your phone.

But, as is the way of the world, things are moving forward, and as long as patient needs are well-managed into the future, it seems impossible to imagine a downside.

Virtual GP services can be purchased standalone, but most employers provide access via their Private Medical Insurance, Health Cash Plan, Group Life or Group Income Protection plans.

Nick Hale

Nick Hale

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