All Scottish GPs should offer virtual check-ups for at least one condition such as diabetes and high blood pressure, primary care experts have urged.
A report by the Scottish School of Primary Care said current methods of managing long-term conditions will be “insufficient” by 2025 as the number of Scots with one or more conditions is expected to double.
Pilots are under way to ease the strain on stretched doctors by using technology, such as a project in Lothian where patients take their own blood pressure at home and text the results to their surgery.
The report said “it is impossible to continue to look after patients as we have done” and called for family doctors to implement telehealth in at least one area.
Professor Brian McKinstry, a primary care expert from Edinburgh University, said: “Doctors and nurses in primary care are under tremendous stress right now so trying out something new like this, even if it is going to ease pressure in the long run, is always going to be tough.
“But these working practices will not cope with future demand. We have to do something now.
“There’s always concern at the start that people will feel that they won’t be able to see the doctor so often but they can often get a better response through telehealth.
“In the long term, we seriously believe that this could take the pressure off doctors and nurses, and give them time to do the things that only doctors and nurses can do.”
More than 1.2 million appointments are made to check people’s blood pressure in Scotland every year.
There could be potential to treat lung conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), he added.
It comes just weeks after the Evening News revealed that NHS bosses warned that nearly half of all Edinburgh surgeries could be forced to restrict their lists to new patients to cope with levels of demand.
Dr Miles Mack, chair of Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Scotland, said: “The SSPC is right to suggest that, where sufficient evidence is available, recommendations should be made for practice.
“Where that need lies in hypertension, for example, it may well be that patients would benefit from telemedicine and that, then, should indeed be encouraged.”
Patient campaigners hailed the development but said people should be able to opt out if they preferred to see a GP.
Margaret Watt, chair of the Scotland Patients Association, said: “These machines could be a blessing for the NHS by taking the pressure off GPs.
“It should be up to the patient if they want to see the doctor, as for some older people who live alone, it can be reassuring.
“I think many people would prefer to be able to do these things at home, particularly with the bad weather coming.”