Many sparsely populated municipalities in the Västerbotten County have difficulties recruiting medical professionals to the primary care. The problem is also evident in urban primary care facilities, but to a lesser extent. These units are thus often dependent on temporarily hired physicians, a situation which entail unnecessary high costs, affect continuity and compromise the benefits of an established relationship between doctor and patient.
In 2014, the potential of implementing a “virtual” GP was evaluated in one of the rural municipalities of Västerbotten. The concept depends on GPs in primary care facilities with higher staffing, typically in urban areas, serving patients in the sparsely populated areas on a regular basis. During the pilot study, GPs from two urban primary care centres in Umeå staffed the virtual clinic. During appointments, the GP has support from a local nurse assisting the patient as well as the physician by facilitating necessary examinations and sampling. The concept was evaluated in a cottage hospital, where a room was equipped for the purpose. The room contains, in addition to standard equipment, a video conferencing system and a medical camera that can transmit images of e.g., skin and throat in real time to the GP. A digital stethoscope for heart and lung auscultations with real-time streaming capabilities will also be part of the solution. Evaluation of the concept shows that there are many types of patients and visits suitable for virtual meetings and patients who participated in the study had a generally positive attitude. Among other things, patients highlighted the advantage of meeting the same doctor during return visits, even if this meant a virtual appointment. The dependence of temporary staffing in the sparsely populated areas results in patients being used to meeting doctors they have never seen before. The goal is to deploy the concept in 2016.
This text has been originally released in the following report: Telemedicine Survey in the County Council of Västerbotten -An analysis of the present situation, conditions and areas of improvement.