How the coronavirus pandemic has changed our ways of consulting in healthcare

The enforcement of lockdown in March has sparked the most sweeping changes in working as many of us switched to telecommuting. This new norm of remotely working from home is seemingly becoming a permanent shift.

Dr Natasha Fernando

Wed Dec 23 2020

Lockdown and healthcare practice

The enforcement of lockdown in March has sparked the most sweeping changes in working as many of us switched to telecommuting. This new norm of remotely working from home is seemingly becoming a permanent shift as we emerge from the other side of the first pandemic peak. We have never had to adapt our ways of working so drastically in such a short space of time. In healthcare, work was completely reshaped with the sole purpose of containing the infection and guarding the most vulnerable. The NHS arguably saw the most radical digital revolution in history, as clinics were forced into virtual consulting within 2 weeks of lockdown.

As an NHS GP, I admit I felt very much pushed out of my comfort zone having to rapidly adjust to this way of working. I was initially most apprehensive about missing conditions due to poor picture or video quality, but through trial and error my knowledge in basics of photography has improved and I now feel a lot more confident in advising my patients on angles and lighting! I have also reserved concern for my technophobe patients and those with sensory impairments or learning difficulties. I call many of these patients into my surgery for a face-to-face review. Since the beginning of the lockdown patients have only been asked to come in for a brief face-to-face encounter if it is absolutely essential to perform an examination that cannot be performed remotely. Stringent protective measures are now the norm to ensure the safety of the patients and workers within the GP practice. After being triaged for COVID-19 risk, the patient attends the surgery wearing a mask, waits in a socially distanced waiting area which has been zoned according to their risk, then sees the doctor or nurse wearing PPE. The consulting room seating, couch and equipment are then cleaned ready for the next patient. This standard norm of practice for most clinicians & practitioners would only be considered inconceivable if foretold by a crystal ball this time last year!

How people's attitudes to receiving healthcare have changed

Initially in the first month of lockdown saw prioritisation of firefighting the acute needs of those directly impacted by the infection, whilst scaling back routine non-COVID19 care. Now as we emerge out of lockdown, priorities and attitudes are shifting when it comes to consulting a healthcare professional and there have also been some interesting shifts in health-seeking behaviour. A YouGov online survey of 6005 members of the public performed between 6th & 11th May found that access to health services for people with pre-existing conditions was 20% lower during the COVID-19 peak period. While many (47%) had reported they felt there was no immediate need to access health care, 22% expressed concerns over contracting/ transmitting the virus, worries about breaking the lockdown or overwhelming the NHS services.

Managing chronic conditions through lifestyle changes

Now in August, my GP clinic lists are heaving with patients who postponed a review of their ongoing health concerns or chronic conditions. I am, however, glad to say I have had a few patients who seem to have just got on in managing their chronic conditions through changing their lifestyles. I have had a diabetic who developed a healthy passion for cooking during lockdown, proudly proclaiming she has now completely quit her pre-COVID habit of ready-meals and takeaways. I have also had a patient with chronic depression, who claimed that his newly discovered beautiful local hiking trail is helping him cope with the stress of lockdown. These patients are just two examples of many who have utilised lockdown as the perfect opportunity to start taking more ownership and responsibility for their health.

Promoting a healthy lifestyle and well-being has probably never been so important. The Government, in response to recognising the COVID crisis as a “deadly wake-up call” for obesity levels in the UK, has launched the Obesity Strategy last month. This was prompted by the discovery that obesity can almost double the risk of dying from coronavirus. Boris Johnson has also very openly spoken about how his COVID scare prompted him to get fitter and lose over a stone. Death rates have also been found to be higher in those with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and lung disease. These risk factors can all be improved or even reversed by healthy lifestyle changes. Government legalisation can help, but it is also the role of health & fitness professionals to motivate and support individuals to live healthier lives by eating a more nutritious diet, reducing consumption of processed junk foods, exercising more, sleeping better, stopping smoking, and cutting down on alcohol. During the pandemic, there have been so many great examples of this support being provided virtually whether it is through a Zoom personal training session or group exercise class, a course of YouTube videos, or a video consultation with a nutritionist.

Consequences of lockdown

The drastic social & economic consequences of the prolonged lockdown must not be dismissed. Several surveys have shown that there has been an increase in mental health issues due to enforced restriction and isolation. As the Government furlough scheme ends, it is anticipated there will be record levels of unemployment and financial hardship within households. Those affected may feel adopting a healthy wholefood diet is unsustainable and out of reach. These people are most likely to go into a “survival mode” mentality, rather than prioritising their long-term health goals. Undoubtedly, they are most in need of encouragement and support from health and fitness professionals.

Remote blood testing

It is probably still early days to predict how this adaptable way of working is going to shape our post-COVID future. It is great how remote consulting has unlocked a wider client base, catering well for those living long distances away. They can now conveniently opt to access leading experts from around the world from home. This way of consulting is working perfectly well for shielding clients & patients or those who are just generally apprehensive about unnecessarily exposing themselves.

For all of the above-mentioned reasons, remote finger-prick blood testing has been well embraced during this pandemic. It offers a way for practitioners to get the necessary tests for their patients, without them having to come into a hospital or clinic to have their blood drawn. As results are also delivered securely online, almost the entire process of taking the test to receiving the results and providing any necessary follow-up care can be done remotely. Many clinicians and practitioners find this aligns well with their new ways of consulting, and as more NHS patients are even opting for private finger-prick testing services for their routine blood tests, it is likely to become a new norm.

If you are interested in offering remote blood testing to your patients, you can get in touch at