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The Doctor will Zoom You Now

The Doctor Will Zoom You Now was a rapid, qualitative research study designed to understand the patient experience of remote and virtual consultations.

  • COVID-19
  • Digital health and care
  • Health inequalities

Recognising the shift to the digital by default

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant rules around social distancing and restrictions on in-person contact led to a rapid increase in the use of digital technology for a large proportion of the UK population. This represented a key change in the way people communicate with each other in their daily lives and a significant shift in the way health and social care services are provided. During the height of the pandemic, services moved from a traditional model of in-person care to a ‘digital by default’ approach with remote and virtual consultations and appointments becoming the norm. 

These changes happened almost overnight, demonstrating how quickly the NHS responded to the crisis. While remote and virtual consultations were the often only viable during the pandemic, the rapid implementation made it vital that we heard from people about whether virtual appointments were actually working for them or not. 

Ensuring people are heard

The study engaged 49 people over a 10-day period, using an online platform, with 20 additional one-to-one telephone interviews. Participants were also invited to attend an online workshop on the final day of the study. 

All participants had experienced at least one remote consultation during the lockdown period of the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote consultations took the form of telephone, video or text-based communication. Appointments were for GP, hospital outpatient follow-up and mental health consultations.  

Six key themes were determined during the analysis: 

  • Boundaries and respecting peoples’ time are important to ensure appointments fit in with their lives 
  • Quality personal communication must always matter 
  • Preparation and information required to help provide guidance and set expectations 
  • People must be offered a choice of phone, video or text/email and in-person to suit them and their situation 
  • Test, learn and improve and remote experiences must be designed with patients and carers 
  • Be inclusive and meet the needs of people for whom remote is not possible or appropriate 

We held a webinar to launch the report on 24 July 2020.  During the webinar, we sought to surface both the ways in which people feel digital health services were enhancing their experience of care, but also what the barriers to access and use were, and what needs to be done to overcome these. 

We found that if introduced with care and with patients’ needs at the centre of innovation, virtual and remote consultations have the ability to make a positive and well received contribution to the way patients and health care practitioners communicate. 


This project was led in partnership with Traverse, National Voices and  Healthwatch England and was supported by PPL