After a year in lockdown, there is still much debate around the usefulness of "virtual" consultations, so I thought I'd pitch in with a User's perspective.
The elephant in the room - Personal Visits
First, let's expose the elephant in the room. ANY form of consultation that doesn't involve the use of expensive, immoveable equipment is better carried out in the patient's home. It's very convenient for the consultant, medical practitioner, therapist etc to have the customer come to them, but they will inevitably lose some of the value of the meeting.
The person they are seeing will be outside their comfort zone. They are more likely to be stressed. They can wilfully misrepresent their home situation and hoodwink the consultant. If the consultant actually visits the patient, they can use all of their senses to assess their living conditions. They can see, smell and hear how well they are coping within their home environment at first hand, look for signs that extra help may be required, and make much more in-depth and valid judgements based on facts rather than what the patient reports in a consultation room.
When a person is in their home environment, they are often more relaxed and confident, more likely to "open up" and speak freely.
Sadly, most Professionals hold themselves aloof from this sort of consultation nowadays. Sometimes perhaps, to the detriment of those who are seeking their help. I've never quite understood why.
Remote Consultation via Telephony and Video
One of the few good thing to come out of the Covid 19 epidemic, was the acceleration of the take-up of video conferencing and group telephony technologies.
At long last, individuals and corporations alike were dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age, and forced to embrace the technology that they should have been using extensively for over a decade. Now the majority of people have some level of access to video, telephone or both forms of communication, and the hard to reach minority is shrinking in size every day. Let's not be complacent though, there are still many people who are not familiar or comfortable with the technology, and some who do not possess the technology needed to access these services. This however can be addressed if the commitment of government is strong enough to introduce universal broadband, develop inexpensive and easy to use terminals (based around the TV that almost everyone has sitting in the corner of their room?) and a little training.
Why has no-one developed a gadget that connects to a TV via USB and contains a webcam and remote control to facilitate simple video conferencing? Come on innovators! pull your socks up and get inventing.
The Case for Virtual Consultations
Virtual consultations must continue to have a place in our lives. While they are not the answer for all, they are the sensible alternative for many.
Why should I be forced to make a journey by bus of an hour and a half each way to see my Neurologist? It's simply selfish of them to expect it simply because they have not invested in the technology to facilitate this medium of contact. What do they gain by my physical presence? often nothing. And as I said earlier, they may actually be failing to capture information they might gather from a remote viewing.
In conclusion, I propose the following:
Consultants and clinicians should reassess their relationship with clients and ask themselves whether face to face consultations are in the best interests of the client, or simply for the convenience of themselves.
Remote consultation should become the norm rather than the exception
Clinicians and businesses should actively encourage remote consultations where appropriate
Government should provide a universal broadband network
Innovators should explore and develop affordable, easy to use video conferencing solutions based around existing domestic technology.
I hope I've rattled a cage or two. If you have strong views on this topic, please leave a comment. I'd love to discuss with you.