Patients 'at risk' as telephone and online GP appointments can miss serious illnesses, study finds

29 November 2023, 08:39

Virtual and phone appointments can miss serious illnesses, study finds
Virtual and phone appointments can miss serious illnesses, study finds. Picture: Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

Holding GP appointments over the phone or online could harm patients, a new study has revealed.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

The report, led by the University of Oxford, conducted an analysis of remote NHS doctor consultations between 2020 and 2023.

The study found that “deaths and serious harms” had occurred as a result of wrong and missed diagnoses, and delayed referrals.

It comes after the pandemic saw face-to-face GP appointments dip by less than half.

Restoring face-to-face appointments has been labelled a priority by several health secretaries since, including by Steve Barclay who last year promised to name GPs who would not see patients in person.

Ex-health secretary discusses reports that receptionists are responsible for deaths after failure to

Read More: Soaring number of people attending A&E with colds, coughs and hiccups amid struggle to get GP appointments

Read More: Nurses 'disgusted' as doctors reach bumper pay deal with government as they warn of more strikes

Up to a third of GP appointments are now conducted virtually after the pandemic.

But the report, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), suggests that doctors should not give telephone appointments to those who are elderly, deaf or technophobes.

Researchers noted that incidents of death or serious harm caused by remote consultations were “rare” and that the vast majority were safe.

Experts examined 95 serious safety incidents that have occurred in Britain since 2020 where patients came to harm.

Among the errors made over the phone were missed diagnoses and underestimating the severity of a number of conditions.

Sepsis, cancer, congenital heart disease and diabetic foot complications were among some of the conditions missed or underestimated.

These conditions “would likely have been readily diagnosed with an in-person examination” the report said.

Patients who were particularly young or old, or had urgent conditions such as new chest or abdominal pain, palliative care, physical injuries or diabetes were at the most risk of coming to harm.

In one incident, a 16-year-old girl died from sepsis after she was mistakenly diagnosed with glandular fever by a GP over the phone.

In another, a new mother died from a missed pulmonary embolism.

It also found that distracted receptionists were responsible for deaths after failing to call patients back.

A woman in her 70s who called in with sudden breathlessness died after the receptionist was distracted by a patient in the waiting room and failed to call her back.

Researchers also found that GPs are more likely to be swayed by what patients have previously been told and repeating past diagnoses and less qualified staff are more unlikely to act on signs of illness.

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

Nicola Bulley 'experts' have joined the search for the toddler

Nicola Bulley 'experts' begin search for missing boy Xielo Maruziva, 2, in River Soar

Sharon Goddard, 53, died after waiting 12 hours in A&E

'Neglected' mum died after waiting more than 12 hours in A&E after returning from dream holiday

Lengthy Royal Mail delays have caused a three-year-old toddler to miss vital chest surgery after urgent NHS letters went undelivered. File images.

Toddler misses vital chest surgery after Royal Mail fails to deliver urgent NHS letters, leaving him coughing and wheezing

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron

Germany and Poland rule out troops for Ukraine as Kremlin warns of wider war

"It’s been a big shock and it’s quite a big impact and he will always remain part of the Strictly family," said Ms Dowden.

'He made the whole room light up': Amy Dowden pays tribute to 'beautiful soul' Robin Windsor after star's death

Poland farmers' protest

Thousands of farmers protest in Warsaw over EU’s environmental policies

Oleg Orlov

Moscow court jails human rights activist for 30 months for Ukraine war criticism

Alan Bates has been giving evidence to MPs today

Sell Post Office to Amazon for a pound, Horizon scandal hero Alan Bates tells MPs

Due to price reasons, the layout of the property and its square footage will not be disclosed, according to the estate agent, Knight Frank.

Freddie Mercury's West London house on the market for £30m – but fans can't see listing over 'privacy reasons'

Pakistan Politics

Ex-Pakistan PM Imran Khan and wife plead not guilty in corruption case

Owners of The Crooked House pub have ordered it to be rebuilt

Crooked House owners ordered to rebuild 'Britain's wonkiest pub' brick-by-brick after it was destroyed

Camilla led the royals at the memorial for King Constantine of Greece after Prince William had to pull out.

Camilla leads the royals after Prince William pulls out of memorial for his godfather due to 'personal matter'

Germany Red Army Faction

German left-wing militant arrested after more than 30 years on the run

Arsenal wished Olsson, who has won 47 caps for his country, a "full and speedy recovery" on social media.

Ex-Arsenal midfielder, 28, rushed to hospital with 'acute brain disease' after collapsing at home

Israel Palestinians

Israel ready to halt war during Ramadan if hostage deal reached, says Biden

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge talking to King Constantine of Greece in a 2012 photo

Prince William pulls out of Windsor castle memorial event ‘due to a personal matter’