Covid-19 sparks rise in online GP services in France

Remote video GP consultation
The spread of coronavirus in France has prompted a spike in online GP consultations as people seek to avoid waiting rooms

The spread of coronavirus Covid-19 in France has prompted a spike in the use of “telemedicine” services that offer medical advice and doctor’s appointments online.

French sites that offer this include Doctolib, Médaviz, and MesDocteurs. They enable patients to connect with a health professional using a web camera and internet link, for a video call.

Before Covid-19 hit, the services were infrequently used, despite certain conditions having been eligible for reimbursement by l’Assurance Maladie for the past 18 months.

But in the past few weeks, the services have seen a significant rise in use, as people seek medical advice without wanting to go to a medical clinic that may turn them away, or cause them to become infected by others.

One service, Médaviz - which allows you to contact your usual GP via video call - has seen a 150% rise in registrations by doctors on its platform each week since Covid-19 hit; while the number of consultations with patients has more than doubled.

Another service, MesDocteurs, has said that since the beginning of February, its numbers have also risen significantly. Marie-Laure Saillard, director general of MesDocteurs, said: “Teleconsultations have risen by more than 40%.”

The newest start-up, Doctolib, has also reported a 40% rise in the number of video consultations, and said on Thursday this week (March 5) that it would be offering doctors the chance to sign up for free.

Yet, most of the increased consultations have not been about coronavirus, but from patients with other conditions, wanting to avoid going to doctor’s offices and health clinics to prevent possible infection.

François Lescure, president of the industry association, said: “From the point of view of trying to prevent [infection], telemedicine is absolutely perfect for the era we are currently living in.”

He added that these services were ready to help fight the spread of coronavirus. He said: “We have established a protocol on coronavirus to take care of patients. It’s about asking the right questions and directing them [to the right place].”

Ms Saillard, at MesDocteurs, said: “We are having to deal with many more questions. Many people who are coughing or who have a cold are worried. We are spending lots of time reassuring them. The [emergency number] 15 is a bit overwhelmed, so we have a very important role [in sharing] information on symptoms. You can read absolute rubbish on social media networks.”

The doctors on the telemedicine systems are trained to call the number 15 in case of an emergency, and they can fast-track patients if necessary.

Coronavirus update in France

This morning (Friday March 6), the number of cases in France has increased significantly.

There were 138 new confirmed cases on Thursday March 5, bringing the total number of cases since the end of January to 423. Seven people have died, and 23 current patients are in a serious state.

All regions of mainland France are now affected.

Infectious diseases specialist Jean-François Delfraissy, who was present at a meeting at the Elysée with President Macron yesterday, has said that France is likely to pass from stage 2 of the virus to stage 3 - epidemic - “within a few days or one or two weeks”.

More information on what a stage 3 epidemic could entail - including the closure of schools and restriction on transport - can be seen here.

The French government is continuing to remind people of how to protect themselves and others.

Advice includes:

  • Wash hands regularly or use hand sanitiser gel
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow (and not into your hands)
  • Use disposable tissues and dispose of them immediately after use
  • Stay at home and wear a medical mask if you are ill yourself. Do not go to your local GP or to the hospital to avoid infecting other people. Call 15, Samu emergency number, to explain your symptoms.

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