The changing landscape of virtual GP services  

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The landscape for these services is changing rapidly, with demand for remote consultations accelerating. For example, at the tail-end of 2022 the demand for private virtual GP appointments soared by over 40%. 

This dynamic change is due to a number of factors:
  • Adapt quickly to new challenges

    The pandemic forced healthcare services to adapt quickly to new challenges. Many providers switched to telemedicine to replace traditional in-person consultations.
  • Widespread staff recruitment problems

    In the NHS there has been a decline in the number of GPs and GP practices, and widespread staff recruitment problems. For example, in March 2023 there were 2,059 fewer fully qualified full-time GPs compared to September 2015.1 These pressures have pushed patients to seek alternatives.
  • Virtual appointments improve efficiency

    Using a virtual GP saves on travel and wait times. It can also improve efficiency and flexibility, enabling patients to consult with a doctor from the comfort of their own home, at a time that suits them. This is particularly beneficial for those who may have limited access to primary care services (e.g., those living in rural areas). These benefits have boosted demand.

Meeting patient demand

To meet this growing demand there has been an increase in competition between virtual GP providers within the UK, and a growth in the scope and coverage of the services. As a result:
  • More health and health-protection providers are expanding their offerings to include either low-cost or free virtual GP services.
  • There has been an increase in the promotion of the services. Demand will therefore continue to grow as patients become more aware of the services and their benefits.
  • Virtual GP services are becoming more integrated with traditional healthcare systems, with some providers partnering with clinics and hospitals.
  • Virtual services have expanded beyond consultations, to offer prescription deliveries and referrals in specialist areas such as physiotherapy and mental health support.
The technology behind virtual GP services is evolving rapidly, with recent advances in video conferencing and AI services, such as symptom triage and the analysis of medical images. Developments currently in the pipeline promise many new benefits for both patients and GPs.


The rapidly accelerating demand for virtual GP services has created a number of challenges:

  • There has been an increase in waiting times for appointments, leading to frustration and dissatisfaction amongst patients.
  • There have been problems servicing the volume of consultations. In places this has compromised the quality of care being offered and has called into question the logic of providing virtual GP services.

Unless there is an increase in the provision of appointments and services by virtual GP providers, these problems will grow and have an impact on the service quality delivered to patients. 

In response, providers are currently undertaking a significant recruitment drive. They are also improving the options available to patients, by offering new services such as appointments with advanced nurse practitioners.


Challenges for employers

The issues outlined above carry implications for employers, who should:
  • Research the virtual GP services available across both healthcare and protection markets
  • Be aware of any problems facing the delivery of the services they might want to promote to their employees
  • Review their wider benefit offerings to see how virtual GP services can be effectively integrated with them
  • Consider whether access to virtual GP services should be granted for all employees, not just those covered by their insurance or protection products
Where multiple virtual GP services are available, employers will need to identify the “best fit” for their company and employees. They should consider:
  • The length of consultations provided, the availability of appointments, and whether referrals for further treatment are offered
  • How well the virtual GP services integrate with their other benefits/services
  • The number of employee dependants that can access the service
  • How easily the service can be accessed (NB: if the services has to be accessed via a third party platform this can increase administration costs)

How to move forward

In summary, given the rise in the number of virtual GP services and the surge in demand and usage, it has now become key for clients to:
  • Understand these services and how they can benefit their employees
  • Promote the “best fit” service to drive employee usage/engagement
  • Gather utilisation data to better understand the health needs of their employees
  • Use this data to refine their health benefit offerings
We are increasingly supporting our clients in this area. Given the increased potential for virtual GP services to become chargeable moving forward, this support will become ever more important.


[1] BMA analysis of NHS General Practice Workforce data

About the author(s)
Jax Thomson
Daniel Smith
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