Near Me, which has been used by the NHS and a range of charities, has reached one million consultations in Scotland
A ground-breaking system that allows clinicians to consult with patients by video link has been used for the millionth time in Scotland.
The Scottish Government’s Digital Health and Care Technology Enabled Care team has revealed that the millionth consultation using the Near Me platform involved a psychologist and a Fife patient.
The technology has been used by a range of charities including Alzheimer Scotland, Crossreach, Cruse Bereavement Care and Penumbra.
Near Me was initially used mainly in rural and island communities in the north of the country, where distances between patients and health staff can be an issue. Its use was rapidly ramped up by the Scottish Government at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and it is increasingly seen as an indispensable healthcare tool.
“To have recorded one million Near Me consultations in such a relatively short period is quite remarkable,” said Margaret Whoriskey, head of technology enabled care and digital healthcare innovation. “Throughout the country healthcare professionals have come to value Near Me as a useful and easy-to-use means of communication and passing the one million mark shows that many patients and clients are also comfortable with video consultation.
“To use the over-used cliché, Near Me has become part of the new normal. It’s proving to be a real success story, so much so that it is now being rolled out across the wider public and third sector.”
The millionth consultation was carried out last month by assistant psychologist Kimberley Elston, of NHS Fife’s eating disorder advanced intervention team, who said: “Near Me has been invaluable for us being able to see patients throughout the pandemic. Due to reduced travel times for all involved we are able to offer more appointments. As restrictions ease, having Near Me as an option allows patient and department flexibility”.
Covid-19 was unheard of in Scotland when in December 2016 Dr Steve Baguley, a consultant in sexual health and HIV with NHS Grampian, became the first person to use Near Me clinically. NHS Grampian provided sexual health and HIV services in Orkney and Shetland and Dr Baguley used Near Me to consult with an islander who was concerned about a rash.
“Getting access to a main hospital can be tremendously challenging for people in some island communities,” said Dr Baguley. “Near Me allowed this particular patient to have a consultation with me without travelling from home and it allowed me to get a good look at his rash.”
He added: “Tele-consulting doesn’t always work in my field as patients invariably need blood or urine tests and hands-on treatment. But it’s great for people who do not necessarily have to come in to see a clinician.”
In September 2020, the Technology Enabled Care team revealed the results of a survey of 5,400 people on the use of Near Me. It found that there was strong support for the use of video consulting for health and care appointments in Scotland, with 87% of the public and 94% of clinicians believing that it should be offered for appointments.
The survey attracted over 4,000 responses from members of the public and over 1,100 from healthcare professionals. There were also responses from organisations representing people with different health and care needs, such as cancer, inequalities, mental health, older people and end-of-life care. Many of these groups are continuing to use Near Me but there are plans to widen its use to a wider range of public services, including social care, independent care, the third sector and the housing sector.