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Has Covid changed hospitals for the better?

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The pandemic has been a catalyst for innovation in the NHS and some changes will have a lasting effect, says Dr John Wright of Bradford Royal Infirmary.

The Covid pandemic has transformed our hospitals. Car parks are empty, once-bustling corridors are quiet, and these days you won't see any staff making fashion statements - we're all in scrubs and masks.

Dr Wright says changes made to reduce spread of infection are here to stay and will help us live with future outbreaks of Covid and other infectious diseases. But there is also much to learn from how we have adapted to non-Covid care - with drive-through PCR swabs and blood tests, for example, or the use of oximeters to monitor oxygen levels in the blood of Covid patients in their homes, providing warning if they need to be admitted to hospital.

But the biggest change has been in the way hospital consultations are carried out. Before the pandemic nearly all appointments took place face-to-face. Last year probably 90% occurred via telephone or video call, and most of my colleagues at Bradford Royal Infirmary are still running remote clinics today.

This is much more convenient for patients. In the past a typical consultation might have involved a half-day of travel, the search for a parking place, and then sitting in a waiting room. However, remote consultations do have their drawbacks. Patients tend to underplay their symptoms on the phone and it is easier to avoid discussing challenging issues. Life-changing diagnoses require sensitive, face-to-face communication. Another problem is that some patients struggle with technology. 

The main drawback, though, is that clinicians are unable to undertake physical examination remotely. Clinical histories are the yin of the consultation but physical examinations are the yang, and video consultations only provide half the picture.

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Source: BBC News, 15 March 2021

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