J Med Internet Res. 2021 Sep 17;23(9):e19232. doi: 10.2196/19232.
BACKGROUND: Using technology to reduce the pressure on the National Health Service (NHS) in England and Wales is a key government target, and the NHS Long-Term Plan outlines a strategy for digitally enabled outpatient care to become mainstream by 2024. In 2020, the COVID-19 response saw the widespread introduction of remote consultations for patient follow-up, regardless of individual preferences. Despite this rapid change, there may be enduring barriers to the effective implementation of remote appointments into routine practice once the unique drivers for change during the COVID-19 pandemic no longer apply, to which pre-COVID implementation studies can offer important insights.
OBJECTIVE: This study aims to evaluate the feasibility of using real-time remote consultations between patients and secondary care physicians for routine patient follow-up at a large hospital in the United Kingdom and to assess whether patient satisfaction differs between intervention and usual care patients.
METHODS: Clinically stable liver transplant patients were randomized to real-time remote consultations in which their hospital physician used secure videoconferencing software (intervention) or standard face-to-face appointments (usual care). Participants were asked to complete postappointment questionnaires over 12 months. Data were analyzed on an intention-to-treat basis. The primary outcome was the difference in scores between baseline and study end by patient group for the three domains of patient satisfaction (assessed using the Visit-Specific Satisfaction Instrument). An embedded qualitative process evaluation used interviews to assess patient and staff experiences.
RESULTS: Of the 54 patients who were randomized, 29 (54%) received remote consultations, and 25 (46%) received usual care (recruitment rate: 54/203, 26.6%). The crossover between study arms was high (13/29, 45%). A total of 129 appointments were completed, with 63.6% (82/129) of the questionnaires being returned. Patient satisfaction at 12 months increased in both the intervention (25 points) and usual care (14 points) groups. The within-group analysis showed that the increases were significant for both intervention (P<.001) and usual care (P=.02) patients; however, the between-group difference was not significant after controlling for baseline scores (P=.10). The qualitative process evaluation showed that-according to patients-remote consultations saved time and money, were less burdensome, and caused fewer negative impacts on health. Technical problems with the software were common, and only 17% (5/29) of patients received all appointments over video. Both consultants and patients saw remote consultations as positive and beneficial.
CONCLUSIONS: Using technology to conduct routine follow-up appointments remotely may ease some of the resource and infrastructure challenges faced by the UK NHS and free up clinic space for patients who must be seen face-to-face. Our findings regarding the advantages and challenges of using remote consultations for routine follow-ups of liver transplant patients have important implications for service organization and delivery in the postpandemic NHS.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: ISRCTN Registry 14093266; https://www.isrctn.com/ISRCTN14093266.
INTERNATIONAL REGISTERED REPORT IDENTIFIER (IRRID): RR2-10.1186/s13063-018-2953-4.