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We studied video consulting in the National Health Service during 2020-2021 through video interviews, an online survey and online discussions with people who had provided and participated in such consultations. Video consulting had previously been used for selected groups in limited settings in the UK. The pandemic created a seismic shift in the context for remote consulting, in which video transformed from a niche technology typically introduced by individual clinicians committed to innovation and quality improvement to offering what many felt was the only safe way to deliver certain types of healthcare. A new practice emerged: a co-constitution of technology and healthcare made possible by new configurations of equipment, connectivity and physical spaces. Despite heterogeneous service settings and previous experiences of video consulting, we found certain kinds of common changes had made video consulting possible. We used practice theory to analyse these changes, interpreting the commonalities found in our data as changes in purpose, material arrangements and a relaxing of rules about security, confidentiality and location of consultations. The practice of video consulting was equivocal. Accounts of, and preferences for, video consulting varied as did the extent to which it was sustained after initial take-up. People made sense of video consulting in different ways, ranging from interpreting video as offering a new modality of healthcare for the future to a sub-optimal, temporary alternative to in-person care. Despite these variations, video consulting became a recognisable social phenomenon, albeit neither universally adopted nor consistently sustained. The nature of this social change offers new perspectives on processes of implementation and spread and scale-up. Our findings have important implications for the future of video consulting. We emphasise the necessity for viable material arrangements and a continued shared interpretation of the meaning of video consulting for the practice to continue.

Original publication




Journal article


Soc Sci Med

Publication Date





Practice theory, Qualitative research, Social change, Sociomateriality, Video consultations