Digital communication technologies are part of everyday life, but their uptake in healthcare, including general practice, has been surprisingly slow.
Policymakers in the UK have suggested that alternatives to face-to-face consultations such as email, internet video, such as Skype or FaceTime, and structured e-consultations could improve access, increase convenience and reduce workload.
Heather Brant and colleagues have identified the involvement of practice receptionists as a crucial ingredient of getting these technologies into general practice. They studied eight general practices in England and Scotland which have adopted one or more of these methods, and interviewed patients and staff to help understand the roles of the practice receptionists.
They found that their involvement in planning the introduction of alternative approaches to face-to-face consultations was minimal, despite the expectation that they would be involved in making them work. There was often no recognition of the potential difficulties and extra work that reception staff might need to face, and little opportunity for them to provide input on introducing and modifying new systems.
Involving the wider practice team, including the reception staff, in discussions and planning can ensure that they are suitably prepared to support the introduction of alternatives to face-to-face consultations.