UK ambulance service testing Skype-like video consultations with smartphone apps

Patients who rang 999 for an ambulance could soon be assessed via video-call technology such as Skype to check whether their condition was not life-threatening.

A trial is under way to check whether face-to-face smartphone apps could allow medics to make more accurate decisions by viewing injuries.

The South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS), which extended across four regions in southern England, said diagnosing a patient without being able to see them could prove difficult.

The idea was also being tested by other ambulance trusts, it added.

Video-calling services were now available on many social media apps, including Facebook and WhatsApp.

A spokeswoman for SCAS said: "SCAS is currently trialing the use of technology to provide face-to-face consultations over the telephone, as are other ambulance trusts, www.itv.com reported.

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"This was initially started at certain nursing homes who were frequent callers to our service. This enables both the patient and the trained clinician within the clinical co-ordination centre (where 999 calls are received) to see each other.

"This gives the clinician more information when they are assessing the patient as they can see the patient and view the injury severity, symptoms, etc.

"The patient can see the clinician which improves the experience of the assessment they receive,'' a spokesman for SCAS said.

These and other trusts were trialing the video consultations, and they gave "the clinician more information when they are assessing the patient," he added.

However, the interim chairman of the British Medical Association's GP committee, Dr Richard Vautrey, said with video consultations, doctors had to "err on the side of caution" as it did not allow for a proper physical examination.

Meanwhile, ambulance services were coming under mounting pressure, with NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh saying there was a culture of "hitting the target but missing the point". According to a report in The Telegraph last week, victims of heart attacks and strokes could have to wait 40 minutes for an ambulance under new NHS targets.