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Posted by on Oct 7, 2020 in Microsoft Teams

Using Microsoft Teams for virtual consultations during Covid-19 and beyond

This blog post has been guest authored by Tom Scott, Product Manager at Modality Systems. I also spoke with Tom about using Microsoft Teams in healthcare: you can watch that video on this page. Don’t forget to subscribe if you want to know when the next video lands!

Using Microsoft Teams for virtual consultations during Covid-19 and beyond

It’s fair to say that over the last 6 months, the world has changed beyond recognition as people have adapted to lockdowns, social distancing, and working remotely as the Covid-19 pandemic continues. Throughout these times, digital technology has enabled families and friends to keep in touch and colleagues to continue to work together when not in the office.

I’ve been managing our virtual consultation service, OneConsultation, since 2018, and while before the Covid-19 pandemic, video consultations and telemedicine were used in specific services and use cases, it was never considered a realistic alternative way of delivering healthcare services for the masses.

Virtual consultations gain traction

The crisis has brought necessity, innovation, and a complete change of thinking – which is here to stay. Almost overnight, everyone was forced to transform the way they work and it’s meant that traditional ‘blockers’ and concerns over virtual consultations in healthcare have been removed out of necessity – there was never a question of “would people use it” because they had to.

Initiatives from vendors have certainly helped. Many NHS trusts have adopted Microsoft Teams, for instance. Thanks to the offer from Microsoft enabling NHS staff to use Teams for free during the Coronavirus outbreak, this has enabled staff and patients to get used to virtual consultations and appreciate the benefits.

What is a virtual consultation?

Virtual consultations provide healthcare providers with an alternate method of diagnosing and treating patients. By switching to virtual consultations, clinicians, doctors, and patients benefit from accessibility improvements, fewer cancellations, and faster appointments.

But most virtual consultation software needs tailoring for the specific needs of the healthcare sector and herein lies the opportunity for resellers.

Customisation needs to take account of the fact that patients are often vulnerable and struggle with technology.

Most consultations are also one-to-one and highly confidential. Security is therefore vital -as is the ability for healthcare providers to connect with patients from their smartphone, laptop, or tablet with just one click.

Rapid adoption of virtual consultations

Before lockdown, we had seen a steady uptake in virtual consultations. For example, Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust started offering a digital alternative to in-person appointments in 2018. The average number of consultations per month was 200 for their Talking Therapies service.

So far, we have deployed over 950 individual virtual waiting rooms across seven healthcare organisations in the UK which have hosted over 100,000 virtual consultations since March 2020.  During this time, we have served 87,000 individual consultations including 36,000 hours of video.

When OneConsultation was first deployed and virtual consultations were offered at scale, the pattern in usage appeared to follow traditional booking times as peak periods for appointments were mid-morning and early afternoon during weekdays.  This mirrored appointment schedules when the services were delivered in person.  Appointments would fit around work and school runs.

Throughout lockdown, we saw increased numbers of consultations taking place ‘out of hours’ either early in the morning or later in the evening.

People seemed willing to deliver and attend appointments out of hours allowing both clinicians and patients to benefit from the flexibility that virtual consultations provide.

What happens next?

As we start to return to some sort of normality following the Covid-19 pandemic, it is entirely appropriate that some services will return to being delivered in person. However, people will now expect a virtual option to attend these services.

The challenge for us all will be finding a balance between in-person and virtual consultations.  What that is remains to be seen however the one thing we can be certain of is that virtual consultations are here to stay!

Written by Tom Morgan

Tom is a Microsoft Teams Platform developer and Microsoft MVP who has been blogging for over a decade. Find out more.
Buy the book: Building and Developing Apps & Bots for Microsoft Teams. Now available to purchase online with free updates.

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