Is the era of face-to-face GP appointments over in Hertfordshire?
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The era of telephone and online GP appointments is here to stay according to medical bosses in Hertfordshire, but face-to-face visits will still remain important.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced surgeries to reduce in-person consultations and increase phone and video chats.
While old-style appointments are expected to increase post-pandemic, it is clear from the data that the distribution of appointments won't be reverting to pre pandemic levels.
Phone appointments more than quadrupled between February and June last year from 11 per cent to 48 per cent and have remained on average 39 per cent of all responses in East and North Herts.
Herts Valley GP practices followed a similar trend but in February 21, the most recent month with data, more phone appointments were held than face-to-face appointments for the first time in months.
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A total of 109,885 phone appointments took place this February compared to 107,294 face-to-face appointments.
Face-to-face remains the main way GPs have seen patients in the last 12 months, though they are down from 81 per cent last February to 56 per cent in February 2021 in East and North Herts and down to 49 per cent in Herts Valley clinics.
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Video consultations in Herts Valley went from figures as low as 26 in March 20 to 1,026 in December 20.
However overall in the region video calls have make up about one per cent of all appointments, between January 2020 and February the highest peak of video/online appointments was January 2020 with 2,445 - pre-dating the pandemic.
Prag Moodley, local GP and chair of East and North Hertfordshire CCG, said: “GP practices and patients have embraced virtual and telephone appointments as health services adapted in response to the pandemic, and we know that many people have welcomed their convenience.
"However, a face-to-face consultation with a clinician in a safe environment remains an important part of primary care, and these appointments continue to be available to anyone who needs one.”
The change in focus on how GP appointments have taken place allowed practices to keep seeing a high number of patients despite the ongoing pandemic - October 2020 was the busiest month for Herts GPs between January 2020 and February 2021.