Virtual consultations have increased in healthcare in recent years, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While telehealth offers many benefits for patients, such as convenience and increased accessibility, questions surrounding its impact on the quality of primary care persist. Our recent systematic review “The Impact of Virtual Consultations on the Quality of Primary Care” offers valuable insights into this timely and topical issue in healthcare delivery.
The primary goal of the study was to evaluate how virtual consultations are influencing the quality of primary care. The study was comprehensive, covering various diseases and utilizing six databases for identifying studies. It employed a rigorous screening process to ensure that only pertinent data was included.
The review included 30 studies comprising 5,469,333 participants. The results were quite revealing:
1. Effectiveness: Virtual consultations were as effective, or even more so, than traditional face-to-face consultations for managing certain conditions such as mental illness, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption.
2. Patient-Centeredness: Four studies showed positive impacts on patient-centeredness, although patients felt a decrease in perceived autonomy support when engaging with healthcare providers virtually.
3. Efficiency: Virtual consultations might reduce waiting times, decrease patient costs, and lead to fewer follow-ups in secondary and tertiary healthcare settings.
4. Patient Safety: Unfortunately, data on the impact of virtual consultations on clinical safety was found to be extremely limited.
5. Equity: The evidence is mixed regarding the equitable use of virtual consultations. They seem to be favoured more by younger, female patients, and disparities were observed among other demographic groups depending on contextual factors.
Areas for Further Research
The study identified several gaps in the existing body of evidence. Specifically, there is a need for more robust data regarding patient safety, equity, and patient-centeredness. The researchers stress the importance of utilizing real-world data and clinical trials to ensure that virtual consultations are both effective and inclusive.
While the systematic review brings optimism about the effectiveness and efficiency of virtual consultations, it also flags important areas where more research is needed. A tailored approach, based on more comprehensive data, is crucial for informing future policies in virtual primary care. By focusing on these areas, healthcare providers and policymakers can aim to offer a more balanced, equitable, and safe healthcare delivery system for patients.