Western Isles Hospital had a successful first day of remote consultations yesterday (Tuesday 24 March), with outpatients appointments operating using the NHS NearMe video system.
All GP Practices, hospitals and other care settings across Scotland have been asked to increase use of remote consultations by telephone or video. It will mean most people can receive urgent health care and advice from their own home – a crucial step to help reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
NHS NearMe operates from your home, so there is no need to visit the surgery or hospital. NHS Western Isles Quality Improvement Coordinator, Elizabeth Fowler, said: "This scaling up of Near Me services, as part of the COVID-19 response, offers
our patients quick and easy access to health services without the need to leave home, so especially useful for parents and carers, or anyone who is self-isolating."
Our reporter Annie Delin was one of the first to have her appointment switched to the new system yesterday. She writes: “I already had an appointment fixed for the respiratory clinic on Tuesday and, as the date approached, I was convinced it would be cancelled because of the current situation. I even considered cancelling it myself, as I’ve already been in self-isolation for 10 days.
“Instead I was told that Dr David Ross would conduct the clinic using NearMe. I was told to follow the link from the NHS Western Isles home page (and here) to start my appointment.
“You need to be at a computer or with your tablet set up to face you. The software on your own computer asks permission to use the camera and microphone. Make sure the volume is on so that you can hear what is being said.
“At the appointment time, I clicked on the ‘start video call’ button. You fill in your name and date of birth and the name of the doctor you are expecting to see (it’s on your appointment letter) and then you wait, looking at your own face on the screen.
At least that gives you time to fix your hair and move the screen around to get a clear picture!
“After a short wait, a nurse/receptionist appears on the screen and checks who you are to see and at what time. She’s a real person and she is at the hospital in Stornoway. She puts you into a ‘virtual waiting room’ and some music is played with
a message on the screen to show that you are waiting.
“Dr Ross appeared on screen. To my relief my own picture disappeared into a small box in the corner, so I could stop feeling self-conscious. And luckily the first question he asked was ‘what do you do for a living?’.
“That allowed me to say that I was a journalist and hoped to write up this experience. I asked permission to take a picture and he agreed.
“The appointment was relaxed and easy, it worked just like a face-to-face meeting except that I saved a 20-mile return journey and didn’t break my self-isolation.  Overall it was completed in about 40 minutes, including waiting time.

“When the consultation ended and we had agreed what action was needed next, I clicked the ‘end call’ button. A short survey appeared on the screen asking how I had found the NearMe system.
“My only negative comments were around the uncertainty of how the whole thing would work. None of us are familiar and easy with remote technology and it’s reassuring, once you’ve done it, to know what will happen next time.
“That’s why I wanted to share how it worked with We Love Stornoway readers, so you know what to expect and how it will work. In these difficult times, we’re all going to have to learn new tricks. If I can do it, anyone can.”
The pictures show Dr Ross during his appointment with Annie yesterday and the opening screen which you will see when you follow the link to use NearMe for your appointment.