The NHS has been preparing to embed online consultations in primary care (GP surgeries) for some time (1). This is because online access helps meet the demands of the population. More people attend GP practices, and yet we have fewer GP’s. But the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many consultations (in GP practices and hospitals) quickly moving online. This is because it wasn’t safe to see our doctors face to face. So, it looks like the online consultations are here to stay. Advice and guidelines are becoming rapidly available to help clinicians communicate on video calls. But how can a patient prepare for an online consultation?
1.Deciding on an online consultation
Ideally, a member of staff from your general practice will have had the opportunity to discuss whether a video call, phone call or face to face appointment will be best for you. Once the video call is decided you will receive information on how to access the video call platform. This is normally via a text from your GP surgery. Follow the guidance they provide to access the platform.
2. Choosing a space to have the online call
Ideally, you want a quiet space with privacy. Whilst not always achievable, aim to get some protected time with no interruptions from house members.
When choosing a place consider whether someone could hear you talking or see you. For example, would a neighbour be able to hear you or see into your room? Most importantly make sure that anyone you wouldn’t want to hear your conversation can’t.
For video calls, it is best to have the light on your face and a darker background. This improves video quality when your internet connection is poor.
If you are having to use public internet connections then aim to be in a private room or area wherever possible.
3. Using the Video Call Software
Make yourself familiar with the platform you will be using. Many platforms have a ‘test call’ service. Before the appointment, you can use ‘test call’ to check that your audio and camera work. You can also find out what tools are available on the software. Some allow you to upload photos or show your computer screen. You can use all of these tools to explain or show something to a clinician if you need to.
Using the software beforehand can also allow you to see the quality of your internet connection. Walk around your home and see where has the most reliable internet connection for a video call.
If a ‘test call’ service isn’t available on the platform, you can check your internet connection and camera quality using a public platform e.g. Whatsapp. Ring a family member or friend and see how well you can see and hear them in different parts of your home.
If you are someone who may find an online consultation hard to set up, do you have a family member, friend of carer that could help you?
4.Preparing for the appointment:
It is useful to angle the camera to show your head, neck, upper body and arms. This will allow the doctor to see any gestures you make. This will make it easier to understand what you might be explaining.
Have a pen and paper handy in case you would like to make some notes. You may wish to write down things that are hard to remember or are complicated.
If you have any questions it may be helpful to write them down before you start the video call so that you remember what you want to say.
Ensure your laptop, tablet or smartphone is charged before the appointment.
Your clinician will have planned a backup option with you for if the video call fails, make sure you know what will happen in this scenario. It is often that they will ring you on your phone. Ensure you have your phone to hand for this.
5.During the Appointment
Ask for clarification. If you struggle to hear/understand what a clinician is saying, ask them to explain what they mean or to repeat themselves. It can be helpful to speak slower so you can be heard over the phone.
If you want someone to be with you, they can be. Have them introduce themselves to the clinician when your video starts and ideally keep them in the view of the video.
Consider recording the session. Many platforms allow you to record the video- ask your doctor if that’s something you would like. It can often be useful to look over later and remember what was said.
Remember that if you didn’t feel like the appointment answered your questions or concerns you can ask to have another discussion using a different method if possible.