By Diane Irvine

WITH the onset of the pandemic many of us found ourselves having to adapt quickly to remote working. Suddenly, life demanded navigating an unfamiliar virtual environment and more sophisticated IT skills. How much more demanding, though, for doctors having to make a digital diagnosis.

In working life we all have to carry out tasks our initial training hasn’t covered: no course is comprehensive or can cover all eventualities. However, for healthcare professionals, additional training and support can make all the difference, particularly when it comes to ensuring patient safety.

One of the areas new to most medics is seeing patients online. This involves more than just being able to turn on a computer. Virtual consulting calls for specialist training and not just in technology. For digital appointments to be carried out safely medics need another layer of knowledge.

Some symptoms, like a rash, for instance, can look very different on-screen than in person. Knowing this, and how to tell the difference, is a crucial aspect of online consulting about which doctors must be aware. Another element critical to the effectiveness of a virtual appointment is confidentiality: someone else might be in a room with a patient, although unseen. If an individual is living with an abusive and violent partner this can affect what they are willing to divulge. These are just a few complexities of the online clinic.

During the last 30 years delivering training in the healthcare and medical devices industry I saw first-hand that there were many areas, virtual consulting being the most recent example, in which highly-skilled clinicians needed the opportunity to gain additional skills. Healthcare Skills Training International was set up and registered as an educational institute to fill those gaps and last week marked the launch of our latest course, the UK’s first telemedicine and video consultation postgraduate qualification. This new course has been devised by Dr Mateen Jiwani, a GP and pioneer in digital healthcare.

Dr Jiwani started looking into remote doctor and patient appointments as early as 2011 when a patient travelling to France asked to see him via Skype. Dr Jiwani is one of a number of experts concerned that patients will miss out on the benefits of online surgeries if people can only see their doctors in person.

There is certainly a place for remote consulting within the health service. A move back to solely face-to-face interaction will not only limit the accessibility for patients, it will put a greater burden on doctors. There are already reports of overstretched medics being unable to cope with demand for in-person consultations.

People in all sorts of industries now realise they don’t need to be in the room for their work to be done successfully. No role can be static and doctors are no different. Clinicians working on the front line need a more blended approach to be at the forefront of the latest developments in their field.

Diane Irvine is CEO, Healthcare Skills Training International