According to experts, this winter, flu activity is expected to be higher than usual in the UK. This is because while limitations like social distancing and face covering have been in effect, the virus hasn’t spread as much as it usually would.
Due to this, the population now has low levels of natural immunity against the virus. Covid and the flu are anticipated to be circulating together for the first time in the winter season.
NHS waiting times have reached record highs as a result of the continuous strains on existing services, the backlog of care, and ongoing labour shortages. The average waiting time for a non-urgent face-to-face appointment is 10 days, while the average waiting time for a remote, non-urgent appointment still stands at eight days, according to Pulse’s latest GP survey.
Patients in full-time paid work or full-time education were the least satisfied with the GP appointment times available, indicating that the proposed time would interfere with their working hours, requiring them to book a day off to attend their medical appointment.
As a result, more than half of Brits prefer getting medical advice via video rather than in person. Patients shared that they prefer video calls over in-person appointments as it helps them avoid travel and car parking costs and other practical benefits, such as preventing time off work or not having to arrange childcare.
They also value not having to wait in outpatient clinics. The majority of respondents said there weren’t any disadvantages to remote consulting.
Medical advice moves to apps
Early in the pandemic, telehealth services saw a sharp increase in demand as medical professionals tried to provide secure and efficient healthcare while having to isolate due to Covid. There’s already been an upward trend towards people embracing telehealth apps, but the pandemic accelerated this trend.
The latest research suggests that 55% of people would accept a diagnosis by an app. Since then, telehealth has become increasingly popular, especially in specialities like radiology and behavioural health. Analysts estimate that by 2028, the telehealth market will be worth $636 billion worldwide.
Owing to constraints associated with video calls, the most common type of virtual consultations are initial consultations. It appears that inflammatory arthritis is the most common medical category.
Adoption of telehealth in the UK
There tends to be a correlation between the smartphone adoption rate and the use of telehealth apps. Younger people disproportionately use telehealth apps, while most people aged 50 or above don’t use mobile health apps.
The reason behind this is convenience, safety (especially during Covid when the risk of infection was high), and being able to ‘jump the queue’ owing to the increased backlog of patients waiting to be treated due to the pandemic.
The age group most likely to use a virtual appointment for any health-related consultation is between 25–49 years of age, with 60% of respondents stating that they would rather get medical advice via video call rather than in person. The only age group that wouldn’t prefer virtual appointments is 65+, with only 42% of respondents answering the question with ‘Yes. ’
As many as 56% of respondents from the rest of the South would prefer to see a doctor virtually instead of in person, making it the most telehealth-friendly region in the UK. On the other hand, Scotland has the lowest percentage of people preferring to have a video call with their GP instead of seeing them in person.
Overall, most residents (53%) of the listed regions in the UK prefer getting medical advice via video rather than in person.
The most popular telehealth apps on the market
Within the private sector, a few telehealth apps can be viewed as the market leaders regarding the number of users and downloads.
Booking GP appointments and repeat prescriptions
With over a million downloads on app stores, the “myGP” and “Patient: Access” apps are the most popular telehealth apps when it comes to managing patient and medical professional relationships.
Online medical consultations
With over a million downloads, Livi is the most popular UK telehealth app for seeing a medical professional. A reason behind its popularity is that it’s the first digital healthcare provider to be awarded an ‘outstanding’ rating by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the UK health regulator. This is an accolade held by only 5% of GP practices, and patients are only expected to wait 30mins.
But taking a more global perspective, Teledoc Health, owned by the New York stock exchange listed Teledoc Inc, is by far the most widely used telehealth app on the market, with an estimated 92m users and active in over 130 countries. Teledoc treats various non-urgent conditions, ranging from mental health to skin conditions.
Richard Jackson, founder and CEO at WatchMyCompetitor, commented: “Owing to long NHS waiting times and the healthcare system’s relatively inflexible appointment system, UK residents have been actively seeking credible alternatives. Telehealth apps have been a game changer for British patients.”
“With NHS capacity already under strain due to the pandemic and an ageing society, telehealth apps can reduce the burden on the public healthcare system by reducing the number of non-urgent on-site medical appointments and also enable the early detection of potentially serious medical conditions over the internet.”
“As people’s circumstances and attitudes towards online consultations change, telehealth services should be considered an alternative to regular doctor visits regarding non-urgent conditions. This trend should result in the positive outcome of freeing up much-needed NHS capacity; therefore, individuals with serious medical conditions can be seen by specialists more quickly.”