The move to remote GP appointments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic happened very quickly. NHS England advised GP practices to triage patients by a telephone or online consultation system before providing them with an appointment and only providing face-to-face appointments where clinically necessary.
We know that while this has worked well for some, it has created barriers for others. We spoke to people traditionally more likely to experience digital exclusion to understand why and how this can impact their healthcare experiences, especially during the pandemic. These groups included older people, people with disabilities, and people with limited English.
This report by Healthwatch England investigates why people have been excluded, including lack of digital skills, language barriers and lack of interest in using technology to go online.
We identified five principles for post-COVID-19 care to ensure everyone has access to the appointments they need.
Five principles for post-COVID digital healthcare
- Maintain traditional models of care alongside remote methods and support people to choose the most appropriate appointment type to meet their needs.
- Invest in support programmes to give as many people as possible the skills to access remote care.
- Clarify patients' rights regarding remote care, ensuring people with support or access needs are not disadvantaged when accessing care remotely.
- Enable practices to be proactive about inclusion by recording people's support needs.
- Commit to digital inclusion by treating the internet as a universal right.
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