Whilst we might still be wrestling with lockdown haircuts and online schooling, much has changed in the world since the UK went into lockdown on 23rd March. Now June, more than two months down the line, things continue to evolve daily, from government guidelines detailing how many people can meet at one time to the new track and trace app designed to help slow the spread of the virus. Certain NHS trusts have started to allow elective surgeries, cancer treatments and non-covid or emergency appointments and schools re-opened for particular year groups. Zoom continues to be used for meetings, pub quizzes and group workouts and with internal travel restrictions having been lifted people flocked to the beaches and national parks to enjoy the weather.
The adoption of technology across the generations in the last three months has been rapid, whether to remain in contact with family members, continue working or have face to face online appointments with healthcare professionals. Prior to Covid-19 and the lockdown, the adoption of online GP appointments through apps, although recognised by some as potentially industry changing, was still low and limited to certain groups. Before coronavirus, general practitioners’ work had largely been conducted in the same way for hundreds of years; you go to the doctors office, wait in a waiting room, get seen in person by a GP, receive a diagnosis and advice and leave. 95% of all GP appointments prior to the pandemic were conducted in person however in March when a GP practice became the last place you’d want to be if you were ill, a large proportion of the consultations that had previously taken place in person migrated to an online forum.
Its not just GPs that have embraced the world online consultations, mental health services too have adopted technology to support those in need of advice and support during the crisis. The pandemic, enforced lockdown and the closure of many services normally provided in a face to face, communal environment has meant that the numbers of people seeking mental health support has risen significantly. In a recent survey by the BMA 44% of the medical professionals canvassed were experiencing depression, anxiety, burn out or other mental health conditions relating to their work and prior to the pandemic one in four people in the UK suffer with mental illness at some point in their life. With the ease of online consultations, will mental health support become more widely available to those who need it most, will the two seats opposite each other in an consultation room model be replaced by a consultation through screens, or will the two work in side by side.
There is no doubt that the worldwide lockdown has hastened the development and uptake of telemedicine; a research unit at Oxford University that had been tracking the usage of video consultations over the past six months saw a 1000% increase in two weeks during the beginning of lockdown. Covid-19 has accelerated a shift in both consumer and health professional attitudes towards digital solutions for healthcare communications however it remains to be seen as the world starts to open up to a new normal, if the doctor-patient relationship will continue online or will the interaction in a GP surgery with the physical examinations, face to face care and the reassuring touch of a healthcare professional continue to be the preferred method for both delivering and receiving healthcare services.