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Saturday, 1 September, 2001, 23:02 GMT 00:02 UK
Telemedicine can cut waiting lists
GP surgery
Patients could 'see' their consultant over a tele-link from the GP surgery
Telemedicine could be used to help cut waiting lists and speed up access to specialists.

Researchers in Ireland found that using teleconferences could cut the number of patients needing to go into hospital to see specialists, meaning shorter waiting times.

The doctors studied 100 rheumatology patients and found the teleconference diagnosis was 97% accurate.

Specialists said only 6% of those patients would actually need to come into the hospital for a face-to-face consultation time - meaning swifter treatment and diagnosis.

Televisual rheumatology consultations may be an acceptable alternative to an outpatient consultation for some patients

Dr Paul Leggett
report author
By contrast telephone consultations were found to be 71% accurate in diagnosis, but the specialists said they would still need to see three quarters of those patients at their clinics.

The GPs and patients were also extremely satisfied with the teleconference, although 42% of patients said they would still like to see the specialist face to face.

Author Dr Paul Leggett, from Antrim, said: "While the level of patient satisfaction is lower than that of the doctors, this figure is encouraging and would appear to suggest that televisual rheumatology consultations may be an acceptable alternative to an outpatient consultation for some patients.

"Despite the limitations of the study we feel we have shown that the diagnosis of rheumatological conditions via the medium of television, using a GP facilitator, is both highly accurate and acceptable to doctors and patients."

Dr Leggett said his team had also trialled telemedicine in dermatology and found that to be even more successful and could significantly cut waiting times for patients.

I think that all of us at some point in our careers will be using telemedicine

Kenneth Robertson, Glasgow paediatrician
Doctors agree that telemedicine will increasingly become part of our lives.

It has already been found to be particularly useful in rural communities, linking patients via small community hospitals or GP surgeries to specialists.

Kenneth Robertson, a consultant paediatrician at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow and chair of the British Medical Association's IT committee, said teleconferencing had once been seen as a "toys for the boys" style of medicine.

Instead of once being simply expensive toys in the hands of a handful of GPs and specialists, it has the potential to become a useful part of the NHS.

"I think that all of us at some point in our careers will be using telemedicine," he said.

"Most patients like it because it saves them travelling."

The study is published in the British Journal of General Practice.

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