Patients now speak to their GP online, or using a video chat, for a record one in 50 appointments.
Out of around 28 million GP appointments in England in August, nearly 600,000 were done online or over a video call.
That represents 2.1 per cent of appointments, which is about one in 50 consultations.
It is up from 1.8 per cent in July, according to the analysis of NHS data by the PA news agency – and the highest proportion of appointments seen since current records began in November 2017.
The figures are for online appointments only, and do not include the high proportion of GP appointments – about a quarter – held over the telephone.
Out of around 28 million GP appointments in England in August, nearly 600,000 were done online or over a video call (Stock image)
But they help to explain the fall in face-to-face appointments still being seen even after the pandemic – during which, in-person consultations fell to a record low.
Patient campaigners worry symptoms may be missed when people are not seen in-person by their doctor, and say some older people can struggle with online and video technology, raising concerns about a rise in these types of consultations.
Dennis Reed, from Silver Voices, which campaigns for elderly patients, said: ‘We are getting more and more reports of people basically being pushed to use online virtual appointments, and not even being able to get a phone call with their doctor.
‘That’s extremely worrying, because many older people find this technology very difficult to use, when they did not grow up with the internet and didn’t use it in their jobs.
‘People shouldn’t need to be technical experts to speak to their GP.
‘Vast tranches of the population risk being left behind, and their health may suffer.
‘Face-to-face appointments are best, and online is always going to be a second-tier appointment, where symptoms might be missed when they are described over the internet.’
The rise in appointments online or using a video call has accompanied a drop in those carried out face-to-face, which fell from 70 per cent of appointments in April to 67.9 per cent in August – the lowest figure for 12 months.
Some 26.5 per cent of appointments in August took place over the telephone while one per cent were home visits, with little change in these figures over recent months.
Patients now speak to their GP online, or using a video chat, for a record one in 50 appointments (Stock image)
Speaking on behalf of the Rebuild General Practice campaign, Oxfordshire GP Dr Rachel Ward said: ‘Video appointments are best for many patients who tell us they like the flexibility and efficiency, while other patients prefer coming into see us.’
She added: ‘We want to be able to see our patients and provide the care they need – but the system is broken.
‘Decades of neglect across the whole of the health service and especially in general practice has put patient safety at risk.
‘That’s why we’re asking for a proper plan to invest in general practice and help us to deliver the service patients deserve.’
Dr Victoria Tzortziou Brown, vice-chairwoman of the Royal College Of General Practitioners, said: ‘We know some patients prefer seeing their GP in person, and many GPs prefer this way of consulting, but some patients find remote care a convenient and effective way of accessing GP services.’
NHS England guidance says GP surgeries must respect patients’ preferences for a face-to-face appointment, unless there are good clinical reasons not to do so.
An NHS spokesman said: ‘General practice teams have experienced record demand for their services, with half a million more appointments delivered every week compared to before the pandemic, and almost seven in 10 appointments taking place face-to-face in August.
‘The NHS is committed to improving access for patients, which is why we published our primary care access recovery plan in May, which included landmark support for patients and GP surgeries.’