by Robert Harvey
Head of Protection Advice
Nothing is more frustrating when you’re feeling ill than calling your local doctor’s surgery and being told by the receptionist that you can certainly have an appointment… in 3 weeks that is!
Unfortunately, this is the reality for an increasing number of people as the NHS comes under ever-greater strain from an older, sicker population even as the number of GPs to see them falls. GPs have long been the gatekeepers of the NHS, but now it seems like there are gatekeepers for the gatekeepers!
Recent news stories make clear the strain NHS GP services are under:
What is the alternative to waiting in line to see your own GP? A number of services have sprung up to take advantage of easy access to technology such as tablets and smartphones and attempt to address the shortage of NHS GPs.
In recent years a number of private GP consultation services have come to market, such as Now GP and Push Doctor, offering paid-for subscription or one-off fee-based video consultation services.
Meanwhile the NHS itself has partnered with GP at Hand to offer its own virtual service, although this is primarily London-focused at present.
However, as mentioned, these services come at a cost. Push Doctor, for instance, charges non-members £30 a pop for a 10 minute appointment — that’s £3 a minute. The cost falls to £20 for an unlimited appointment slot if you become a member for £3 per month, but this is still an out-of-pocket expense compared to the free at the point of use NHS.
Most working adults should have an Income Protection policy and many of the leading providers are increasingly taking a proactive approach to their policyholders’ health and wellbeing and offering a range of additional services alongside the traditional core cover.
Many policies now come with access to virtual GP services which, given the pressure NHS services are facing, is a worthy reason to be considering a protection insurance policy by itself, let alone the other larger benefits policies bring.
Below is a list of insurers who already offer virtual GP services for free with Income Protection, alongside a suite of added policy features and benefits.
Income Protection is a valuable benefit for any working adult, paying out a monthly income expressed as a proportion of your gross (pre-tax) earnings to those who can’t work due to an accident or sickness.
Income Protection can help you keep up with all your essential monthly outgoings, from your mortgage to bills, utilities, grocery shopping, travel expenses and more. The addition of remote GP services to cover is just another feather in this type of protection’s cap.
Legal & General offer a paid-for service alongside its Critical Illness policy and Vitality offers its private healthcare members an online GP consultation app.
It’s especially important for Health Insurance policies to have fast access to a GP because generally to make a claim on such a policy you need a referral from a GP.
Historically, this has required waiting to be seen at your local surgery but, as technology has advanced and virtual GP services have rolled out, you can get a doctor on your smartphone in the palm of your hand at a time that suits you.
This speeds up the process of making a Health Insurance claim even further, which is why so many people take out Health Insurance in the first place — i.e. the speed and convenience it allows over NHS services.
There is some variation between the services offered by insurers, with some providing unlimited virtual consultations for both the policyholder and their loved ones, whilst others impose certain access limitations, usually restricting the service to a set number of appointments per year for just the policyholder.
Typically accessed through a simple smartphone app booking system, a video consultation with a qualified GP can often be arranged for the same day or within 24 hours, with no waiting around having to call surgeries for appointments.
The third-party providers that insurers have paired up with can also offer private prescription services, and whilst the cost may be a little higher than the NHS, it does mean that if treatment is required this can be obtained without requiring a visit to an NHS practise.
Designed to give policyholders access to more regular-use, preventative or early intervention services, virtual GP apps and other benefits place real added-value in the hands of consumers with protection insurance.
It’s great to see insurers stepping up to the plate and offering tangible benefits to their customers. Virtual GP services can help with early intervention and ensure policyholders have quick access to expert medical advice, usually free of charge.
Given recent news on the shortage of NHS GPs and the long waiting times for appointments patients are experiencing, private virtual services clearly have a big part to play in easing the burden on, and complementing existing, NHS services.
From the conversations we have with clients it’s increasingly clear people really value having a GP on call at the touch of a button from their smartphone, so we sincerely hope more insurers follow suit and partner up with third party providers to add these benefits to their own policies.
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