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According to new research last year, over 14m people waited over a week to see their GP or failed to get an appointment at all. It’s a growing problem with that figure representing a near 3% year-on-year increase with the pressures of an ageing population and a GP shortage suggesting it will only get worse.

The potential delays to diagnosis and treatment may also be exacerbated by patients failing to present for fear of adding to GP workloads – thinking they should only make an appointment if their symptoms were serious. Of course our own hectic daily agendas can also keep us away from the doctors. Once an appointment is made, we may need take time off work or battle rush-hour traffic to keep it. When we do we might then be stuck in a crowded waiting room with a load of other people who are, not to put too fine a point on it, sick!

Video GP appointments: a new trend

Because of all this, it’s not surprising to see private health insurance providers embracing innovation to enable dialogue and diagnosis. Very many policies already offer access to 24 hour helplines manned by medical experts. For example, BUPA’s nurse-led Anytime Health helpline offers not just medical advice but tips on how to improve your lifestyle more generally which, of course, can help keep you healthy.

A trend to watch is the use of video conferencing technology, something many of us are already well acquainted with through consumer applications such as Skype and Facetime. These free us from the constraints of geography and mobility and could help transform delivery of primary health care. Video can give us, the patients, the ability to seek advice from wherever we are – home, work or holiday resort – and shrug off obstacles presented by pressures of time, our own mobility and, of course, the restraints our own symptoms may present.

Which insurance providers have video consultation services?

  • Vitality has launched Vitality GP, its own smartphone app. Available free as a core benefit this allows one-to-one video consultations with a Vitality GP who can issue private prescriptions for things like pain relief and antibiotics to treat acute symptoms. Referrals for minor diagnostic tests such as blood counts and X-rays and, if necessary, further treatment, can also be made.
  • The Exeter offers a similar if simpler service, its free GP Helpline dispensing advice by ‘phone 24 hours daily and via webcam consultations on weekdays between 8.30am and 6.30pm.
  • Axa PPP Healthcare has taken a slightly different approach with Doctor@Hand which gives discounted access to the external Doctor Care Anywhere facility. This provides GP consultations by both ‘phone and video between 8am and 10pm every day. Rather than wait days you can arrange a consultation with a UK GP within hours, one, specially trained to host video consultations and who is registered with the General Medical Council.


Is it safe to Skype my doctor?

Naturally those taking advantage of such video consultation services may question security, how confidential conversations are and whether data is protected. It’s equally naturally a priority for providers.

Doctor Care Anywhere by Axa PPP reassures its patients by citing its use of high level encryption and the fact that whilst on the video platform the patient is always in control. Access is also managed by two factor authentication, which means the patient must not only provide a user name and password, but additional information known only to them.


How do video consultations affect health insurance?

There’s no doubt that video will play an increasing role in delivery of healthcare advice and diagnosis in the years to come. Yes it has its limitations. It has no application in emergency medicine and for some of us there can be no substitute for seeing our own GP in person at the surgery. But video applications widen the options available and, who knows, for those growing up in this age of technology it could become the default option, their preferred choice.

After all, instead of waiting a week or more for an appointment, video consultations can mean that the doctor will see you now.


If you’d like to discuss video GP consultations or any other benefits offered by private medical insurance, why not call our experts on 0800 018 3633 for free and impartial advice?