Vitality GP: A view from a doctor
Dr Doniert Macfarlane is one of the participating doctors in our new Vitality GP service. As an expert in telemedicine – both online and by phone – he explains what makes Vitality GP a valuable service for members. Dr Macfarlane also outlines the benefits it brings to individuals and employers, and how advisers can communicate these benefits to clients.
WHY IS IT NOW CRUCIAL FOR ADVISERS TO UNDERSTAND TELEMEDICINE SERVICES AND THE BENEFITS THEY CAN OFFER THEIR CLIENTS?
Telemedicine is now established and is one of the fastest growing sectors in medicine. In ten years’ time we will wonder how we ever managed without it, just as we do with the internet. If advisers can understand the benefits themselves, they can communicate these effectively to their clients when differentiating between insurers.
A key driver in the growth of telemedicine is the increasing demand for healthcare caused by an ageing population. Here in the UK, there is also additional pressure on the NHS and a growth in waiting times to see a GP. Telemedicine gives people easy access to immediate medical advice. As time goes on, I think telemedicine will be our first point of contact with doctors generally, both in the public and private sectors.
HOW CAN VITALITY GP BENEFIT ADVISERS?
The frequent usability of Vitality GP encourages engagement between the individual and the insurer. The plan isn’t just brought out in a worst-case scenario when things go wrong; it’s there to offer everyday advice. So, Vitality members can feel confident that their health is viewed as holistically in the private sector as it is in the public sector. That’s a huge selling point for an adviser. The continuity between primary and secondary care also results in greater customer satisfaction. In addition, the more members that access the service, the greater the perceived value of their plan, and that motivates loyalty and retention.
WHY IS NOW A GOOD TIME FOR VITALITYHEALTH TO ADD PRIMARY CARE SERVICES LIKE VITALITY GP TO THEIR POLICIES?
Firstly, VitalityHealth is responding to demand from their clients, who want fast access to definitive treatment. In the traditional system of private health insurance, people with private healthcare make an appointment for an initial consultation with an NHS GP, who then activates their private services. With the current demand on GP services within the NHS that can mean a wait of two weeks or more into see a doctor in some cases (1). The addition of telemedicine allows immediate access to primary care advice and referrals in a private health setting.
Secondly, advances in technology mean telemedicine is now available within arm’s reach of most people via a smartphone or tablet. These two factors – demand and accessibility – create a perfect alignment in changing minds around telemedicine and presenting it as a viable, attractive addition to face-to-face GP consultations.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF TELEMEDICINE FOR PATIENTS?
These are multiple but the main benefits are speed and ease of access. Travel is eliminated, as people can consult with a GP from home or their desk at work. That can be revolutionary for anyone with mobility issues, and it can make life much easier for parents with young children, who won’t have to leave the house with two or more children to ask about the health of one.
People can also feel vulnerable in the clinical setting of a GP’s office. Many find it easier to talk about certain health issues in their own environment.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF TELEMEDICINE FOR EMPLOYERS AND EMPLOYEES?
Employers want staff to be as productive and effective as possible. Most GP surgeries tend to mimic office hours, which means people need to take time off work to attend doctor’s appointments. Telemedicine provides access to GPs at convenient times and in a convenient format, which means employees are treated faster and may return to work sooner. In addition, telemedicine can be used as an employee benefit to help staff to feel supported and valued.
For employees, telemedicine puts an end to the dreaded 8am call to the GP surgery in a quest for an appointment. That’s hugely appealing, especially to a population that does so much else online, from shopping to socialising.
VITALITY GPS WILL BE ABLE TO REVIEW OTHER VITALITY HEALTH DATA DURING CONSULTATIONS. HOW WILL THIS HELP THEM AND THEIR PATIENTS?
When a member contacts a Vitality GP, they can feel confident that the doctor has up-to-the-minute health data in front of them. That includes their Vitality health check and data from any health screen partners –such as Nuffield Health, Bluecrest and BMI Healthcare – as well as information from any connected fitness devices, and their Vitality Age. For the doctor, this presents a fantastic opportunity to promote good healthcare, check understanding of a patient’s health and fitness results, and support them as they make lifestyle changes. Members can ask questions about how to interpret the results from health checks and their Vitality score, and learn how to improve the score.
VITALITY GPS WILL BE ABLE TO REFER PATIENTS TO SPECIALIST CONSULTANTS. HOW WILL THIS IMPROVE THE PATIENT EXPERIENCE AND TREATMENT OUTCOMES?
Vitality GP is a seamless, joined-up service. It removes a huge limitation with traditional health insurance, which requires switching back and forth between public and private sectors for GP consultations, referrals and approval from the health insurer for treatment. With Vitality GP, patients will remain in the private sector for their primary and secondary care, unless referred for emergency or NHS treatment. That removes delays to treatment that may negatively impact upon health, and it reduces the risk of miscommunication and inefficiency around a patient’s healthcare. It also reduces the risk of not meeting member expectations of treatment, experience and service, as their care is coordinated in a single healthcare sector.
VITALITY GP ENABLES GPS TO WRITE PRESCRIPTIONS THAT ARE FULFILLED AND DELIVERED DIRECT TO VITALITY MEMBERS. HOW WILL THIS BENEFIT PATIENTS?
Aligning treatment with telemedicine opens up many possibilities, compared with using telemedicine for diagnosis and advice alone. With Vitality GP, members can get earlier treatment, which in many cases reduces the duration and severity of illnesses. This applies to skin infections and urinary tract infections in particular, which are easy to diagnose and treat remotely, and where early treatment can prevent hospital attendances and admissions. Having a cream to treat a rash delivered to a member’s desk, for example, may mean they don’t need to take any time off work at all. That’s good for them and their employer, plus it actually eases the burden on the NHS. Members can use up to £100 of their cover for these private prescriptions for acute medication.
WHAT PART DO HEALTH INSURERS PLAY IN THE PROVISION OF HEALTHCARE IN THE UK?
It’s my view that the private sector – health insurers and private healthcare – provides choice and removes a population from the NHS, so reducing waiting lists and taking pressure off services. It’s about time that we recognised the positive impact this has. If applied in the correct way, health insurance, private healthcare and telemedicine can assist in the general wellbeing of the members they cover, especially when they also encourage healthy lifestyle changes. The NHS itself recognises the huge potential for telemedicine services in the future and is already using it in certain medical specialties, such as dermatology, to reduce costs and provide patients with better access to expert advice.
WHY DO YOU SUPPORT VITALITY GP?
It’s an innovative service that is moulded around members – that’s why, as a doctor, I’m getting involved. Vitality GP starts with the planholder as its core focus, which is where it should be, and everything is built around them. Ultimately, it’s a smart way of thinking about healthcare in the twenty-first century and how best to deliver a holistic approach to wellbeing.
5 BENEFITS OF VITALITY GP
Dr Macfarlane highlights Vitality GP benefits that are favourites with doctors and patients.
- A quick and easy way to access a doctor.
- GPs have essential information about a member’s benefits and insurance at the time of consultation, something that has never been done before. It makes for a faster, joined-up service.
- A seamless link to private referrals for ongoing tests or treatment.
- Fast follow-up consultations with a Vitality GP to talk through results and investigations.
- Lifestyle changes supported by doctors and based on Vitality Healthchecks and history.