The use of videophone communications over the internet has long been available free of charge using one of the many difference video software packages e.g. Skype. Here at the National Aspergillosis Centre (NAC) we have been using Skype for communicating with our patients for some time, but only in very limited numbers. It is useful for those who live a long way away and who our doctors consider are appropriate. Of course there are also issues of availability and technical expertise to consider too - not to mention privacy if the patient lives in a busy home with few quiet rooms.
On of the problems the NHS in the UK is facing - and they have this in common with other health services - is that it is getting more and more difficult to see your doctor face to face. Appointments are getting scarcer as the number of patients who want to see their doctor rises. It has been found that offering the opportunity to contact your doctor by phone can ease the queues and video appointments will not be far behind.
Delaying in GP appointments and even specialist hospital doctor appointments are frustrating for the patient but are also an immense drain on the UK economy, costing UK companies £100 billion a year in 130 million unnecessary sick days (CIPD report 2013). Change is needed and will most likely happen.
NAC are currently using Skype but it can't do much more than offer free video calls (video is important and doctors need to be able to see the patient). There are several commerical companies developing much more sophisticated systems, ultimately aiming to allow for remote monitoring of several clinical signs in the patients home.
In an economic time when UK government are seeking ways to provide more care for more people more efficiently it is easy to see these systems introduced as alternatives to the traditional GP:patient face to face appointment, provided they don't cost too much!
See also 'Step Forward Medical Concierge' for telemedicine services that already exist in the private sector.