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NHS Scotland ramps up Near Me video consultation service after use in Highlands in response to coronavirus pandemic

By Jonathan Clark

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NHS Scotland is ramping up its use of a system allowing clinicians to consult with patients remotely in an attempt to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Developed and tested in 2018 and 2019, the Near Me video consulting service was initially used mainly in the Highlands, where distances can be an issue.

Now, its use is being rapidly escalated across Scotland as part of the Covid-19 response. All GP practices in the country – including those in NHS Grampian’s area – are now equipped to use Near Me and most are currently doing so.

Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director, Scottish Government, said: "Near Me is proving to be an invaluable tool in the fight against coronavirus. It means people can receive urgent health care and advice remotely from the safety of their own home, without exposing them or NHS clinicians to infection risk.

Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director, Scottish Government.
Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director, Scottish Government.

"It’s also possible for GPs and other clinicians to use it from their home if they are at high risk of infection.

"Offering quick and easy access to health services without the need to travel is vital for patients, especially if they are self-isolating because of coronavirus. Near Me works exactly like a face-to-face meeting except that patients do not need to travel to see a GP."

As with any appointment, patients must first contact their GP practice and arrange for an appointment to be booked in the normal manner. Remote consultations are being carried out by telephone in the first instance but Near Me is used if a video link is felt to be more appropriate.

Patients offered a Near Me appointment will need a device for making a video call and a reliable internet connection.

When introduced by NHS Grampian in 2017, Near Me aimed to improve access to services to patients, reduce travel times, minimise time taken off work and help those who are unable to travel. It has now become an invaluable resource in the fight against the spread of coronavirus.

NHS Grampian's digital health lead, gastroenterologist John Thomson, said: "This and the other digital health developments are fantastic responses to Covid-19 and will leave a legacy of a more agile, patient-focused healthcare system as we recover from Covid-19, benefiting clinicians and patients alike.

"Prior to Covid-19, our patient-focused service gave the patient choice as to attend by video or in person, with around 20 per cent of consultations by video.

"A survey of the service in in 2018 found that 37 per cent of the patients were taking annual or unpaid leave for an appointment and the video service avoided this significant burden on their lives by saving time off work and health miles for travel.

"It has been fantastic to watch the teams that were poised for widespread roll-out of video consultations make what would ordinarily have a taken a year happen in a week."

The video consulting system is helping stop the spread of covid-19.
The video consulting system is helping stop the spread of covid-19.

To use the system patients are given a link to a Near Me clinic and can start their video call from this link. The system checks they have everything in place for a call and then asks the patient to enter his or her name and date of birth. The patient is then held in a secure waiting room until the clinician joins the video call. Once the clinician joins, the consultation takes place as normal.

Near Me is web-based and is powered by a video consulting platform called Attend Anywhere which was procured for national use across Scotland by the Scottish Government. General information about the service is available at www.nearme.scot

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