Getting the most out of your virtual GP appointment

Dr Paula Falconer
GP and menopause Doctor at Bupa
02 June 2020
Next review due June 2023

Are you considering what’s involved in having an online consultation with your doctor? Or perhaps wondering how you can get the most out of your video appointment with your GP?

The current advice is to only visit a GP surgery if you’ve been told to, and most are offering appointments and consultations by phone, online or via video call. These changes have been made to help prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Some face-to-face appointments might still be needed during this period, but your GP will be able to advise you on this.

There are many things you can do to ensure that you get the most out of your appointment. In this article, I explain how online and video consultations work, and what you can do to get the most out of them.

Telephone consultations

Many GP practices have been using the telephone to consult with patients for years, to discuss test results, reports or appointments. Telephone consultations are also often used by people who cannot easily attend face-to-face appointments during normal surgery hours, or who are unable to travel or leave their home for health reasons.

You would typically have a telephone consultation to discuss a single health concern. However, if you have a few health problems your GP will usually arrange a follow up consultation, either face-to-face or by video.

Video consultations

Video consultations are now offered by several GP surgeries. These will be treated in confidence, just like any other type of appointment with your GP. Instead of a face-to-face appointment, you will use the video camera on your mobile phone, computer or tablet to speak to a doctor.

If you have been offered a video call, you will usually receive a text, letter or email confirming the time and date of your appointment.

Before your GP video consultation

To help you get the most out of your virtual appointment here are a few things that you can do.

  • Check that your internet connection works. You may need to do a speed check and reboot your router.
  • Have some headphones handy in case there is a lot of background noise during your call. These can help you and your GP hear each other more clearly.
  • Find a quiet space where you feel comfortable discussing your health, and where your GP can see you clearly.
  • Make some notes in advance on what you want to talk about. Make a note of your symptoms, and how long you have felt the way you’ve felt, including what makes them worse or better. Also jot down any questions you may have – the clearer you are, the easier it will be for the doctor to advise you.
  • Have a list of any medicines that you are taking, and how often you are taking them. It may be helpful to have your medicine boxes next to you in case the GP needs to check them.

A little bit of preparation can go a long way in helping you to get the most out of your appointment.

During your GP video consultation

During your appointment it’s important to ask the GP to explain anything that you don’t understand. You may wish to take some notes of the conversation. If you are sharing a household with someone else, it may help to ask them to take notes on your behalf during the consultation, but only if you are happy for them to be present for the consultation. For example, if you have something to show the doctor, such as a rash, a second pair of hands can make it much easier to show any spots that you might have on your back or head.

If you are having internet connection problems during your consultation, and you and the GP are struggling to hear other, try talking over the phone instead. If you can’t connect don’t be put off. Get in touch with your GP to rebook your appointment.

Before your online appointment ends check that you have covered everything that you wanted to talk about on your check list, and that you are clear about what happens next. If you have lots of issues to discuss, your GP may not be able to cover everything in one appointment. If this is the case, they might suggest that you arrange another appointment to properly discuss any other health concerns that you have. Telling the GP at the start of the consultation what the most important issue is to you will also help it to be treated as a priority.

Make sure that you know the best way to contact your GP if you have any more questions or health problems.

After your GP video consultation

When your appointment is finished you may wish to consider writing down important points from the consultation, including what the GP has asked you to do. Remember to add any key dates in your diary, such as a blood test or a follow up appointment.

What to do in an emergency

If you are unable to get through to a GP, contact the NHS 111 website. They will advise you on where and when to get help. But, if you, or someone you know, starts to feel seriously unwell call 999 immediately.

Bupa offers digital GP services through different routes to suit you. If you have Bupa health insurance you have unlimited access to Digital GP appointments through the Digital GP app (in partnership with Babylon). If you don't have health insurance, our remote private GP service is available to anyone who wishes to book a self-pay video appointment with a private GP via Bupa Health Clinics.

Dr Paula Falconer
Dr Paula Falconer
GP and menopause Doctor at Bupa

    • How might COVID-19 have affected people’s ability to see their GP? COVID-19 chart series. The Health Foundation.,uk, May 2020
    • GP online consultations. NHS. , page last reviewed 7 April 2020
    • Coronavirus (COVID-19) stay at home guidance. GOV.UK., Last updated May 2020
    • Video consultations. NHS., page last reviewed 21 April 2020
    • Health at home. How to access NHS services online. NHS., accessed May 2020
    • Using phone consultations. NHS England., accessed May 2020
    • Heather Hewitt, Joseph Gafaranga and Brian McKinstry et al. Comparison of face-to-face and telephone consultations in primary care: qualitative analysis. British Journal of General Practice 2010; 60 (574): e201-e212

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