The use of video consultation booths in pharmacies in France has risen sharply this year - and is being interpreted as a sign that the technology provides a solution in the growing number of areas that lack local doctors.
The use of the booths has increased almost 57% since the beginning of the year and is up by 22% in July alone, compared to July 2022, according to data from Medadom, a leading digital health service provider in France.
The main reason for this is reported to be the lack or complete absence of doctors in many communes.
One such commune is Créances, in Manche (Normandy) which has no doctor and residents are increasingly turning to the video consultation booth in the local pharmacy when they fall ill, reports French news channel France TV Info.
Similar booths are available in Orléans, in central France, where there is also a lack of doctors.
Read more: How to find a doctor out of hours in France
How do the booths work?
The booths are simple to use. The patient sits in front of the screen, puts on a headset and a hairnet (for hygiene reasons), inserts their carte Vitale, the card proving access to state healthcare in France, and then waits as they would in a traditional doctor’s surgery waiting room.
Patients are reimbursed as usual for a doctor’s appointment, with the social security scheme reimbursing part of the cost, and the rest covered by the patients’ private top-up health insurance scheme if they have one.
The patient will then receive a code on their mobile to click on before the doctor appears on the screen.
The consultation booth has a stethoscope, an oximeter (to measure oxygen levels in the blood), a thermometer and a blood pressure cuff, all of which are digitally connected so the doctor on the other end can have the results.
The pharmacy staff are also nearby in case patients need further help.
At the moment the service is unregulated so pharmacists can charge patients to use it. Cécile Guérin, a pharmacist from Orléans, told regional news website La République du centre, that she pays €260 per month to rent the booth, and charges €5 per consultation, and €7 if it is used while the pharmacy is on-call on Sundays and bank holidays.
Medadom has setup an online map to help find a booth near you.
Corine Launay, a pharmacist from Créances interviewed by France TV info, noted that the booths are only designed to process minor complaints, such as an insect bite, a 40C fever or cystitis.
She said they were for unplanned healthcare and “in no way can replace a practising doctor”. Notably a consultation booth can only process eight patients a day, while a doctor can see 30.
However, “it has untangled several complicated situations where people were heading down the wrong medical path and it means [patients] did not end up overwhelming the accident and emergency units,” Ms Launay continued.