The RCP welcomes the report by the House of Lords COVID-19 committee that calls for a ‘genuinely hybrid healthcare service’ as part of moving to a post-COVID world, which combines digital with face-to-face services for patients.
The committee has rightly recognised in Beyond Digital: Planning for a Hybrid World that the delivery of healthcare was utterly transformed by the pandemic and should not return to how it functioned pre-COVID-19.
The report notes the advantages of the overnight shift towards digital healthcare including the convenience for many patients, something the RCP has long advocated in its recommendations for reforming outpatients.
We are also pleased to see that the report highlighted the RCP’s evidence to the committee. We emphasised the importance of ensuring that greater use of digital healthcare does not exacerbate existing health inequalities for those less able to access digital technologies. The report’s proposal for a minimum service standard for both offline and online healthcare services has merit.
Our 10th COVID-19 workforce impact survey found that physicians want to continue delivering a much greater proportion of their appointments remotely in future. A majority (55%) say at least a quarter of their outpatient appointments should be virtual, and more than a third (35%) think at least 35% of their outpatient appointments should be virtual.
More does still need to be done to enable greater remote care though. The report highlights that health professionals must have the ‘equipment needed to deliver digitally effective services’. This is supported by our survey response, which found 41% do not have everything they need to deliver good remote care.
Commenting on the report, RCP clinical director for digital health Dr Wajid Hussain said:
‘Digital healthcare is nothing new and the pandemic saw rapid changes that had been put off for far too long. Remote appointments work better for most patients and enable them to get the treatment they need much more quickly.
‘But we cannot ignore the challenges. Many clinicians still do not have the right equipment to deliver video consultations, and the wider health and care system often does not have the IT and data systems in place to make digital healthcare simple. Patients will need support to access digital technology, but those who cannot must receive the same high quality standard of care’.