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GPs to be asked about expanding online consultations

NHS England wants more surgeries to offer more services via tablet or smartphone

Mark Gould

Monday, 04 June 2018

NHS England wants to hear the views of GPs, nurses and patients about extending the availability of online consultations using tablets, smart phones or computers to speed up access and save time for clinical staff.

The survey will be used to help Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs) and NHS England understand what extra support general practice might need to provide online consultations.

NHS England is providing funding to CCGs to support GP practices to offer online consultations to patients.

The range of online consultations systems or "tools" available to GP practices varies but the approved suppliers all offer a similar range of functions.

GP practices will have a choice of systems they can put in place to allow online consultations for patients (using a computer, tablet or smart phone rather than attending the surgery, in person, for an appointment).

Primarily, patients would complete an online form, on a practice website or an app, which is delivered electronically to the practice to help it provide the most relevant response.

NHS England says new online consultation tools simply bolt on to existing practice websites without the need to change working patterns or adopt new technology.

The tools offer functions and benefits such as:

  • Triage – capturing a patient’s symptoms and sending one, succinct report clearly highlighting areas of clinical risk and their likely severity, so GPs can assess in seconds the right course of action.
  • Where possible, many systems use standard industry scoring systems such as; PHQ9 for depression and GAD7 for anxiety.
  • Alerts – tools can red flag serious symptoms signposting patients to seek urgent medical attention when needed and clearly highlighting areas of potential clinical concern in the GP report helping to diagnose time sensitive and life-threatening illnesses at the earliest opportunity.
  • Time-saving – early trials indicate that 2-3 patients can be reviewed in the equivalent time it takes to conduct one 10-minute, face-face appointment.
NHS England says that by having symptoms remotely assessed by their own GP without the need to visit the surgery in person, patients will not need to take time off work or use holiday days for the sake of a 10-minute consultation.

It also claims to improved access: "Patients have 24/7 access and get an initial assessment of symptoms plus immediate advice about the next steps to take to get treatment for their condition.

"It can also benefit people with a disability or condition who have difficulty attending the practice in person."

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