FEATURE19 July 2021

A remote future? Healthcare in an online world

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A year of online appointments has offered some insight into how the National Health Service could provide care. By Anastasia Knox.

person having a remote video call

The British public’s preference is clear: when accessing NHS services, they want to be seen face to face.

In a nationally representative online poll*, BritainThinks and the Richmond Group of Charities asked respondents whether they would prefer face-to-face or remote appointments across a range of scenarios.

When thinking about seeing a physiotherapist, a mental health professional, a specialist for the first time, or having a check-up with a specialist on an existing condition, people were more likely to say they would prefer a face-to-face appointment.

Our research suggests this preference is rooted in fundamental questions about the quality of remote care: 68% of those we polled said they don’t feel healthcare professionals would be able to assess their condition as effectively remotely.

This is borne out in focus groups and in-depth interviews with patients and the public: one patient described an online appointment where the physiotherapist struggled to diagnose them without a physical exam. Another patient with a mental health condition talked about feeling that ...