Online consulting keeps surgery open during pandemic

A GP surgery in one of the most deprived boroughs in the UK has been saved from closure in the COVID-19 crisis, thanks to an online triage system.

Dr Farzana Hussain, The Project Surgery, Newham

When two of her three receptionists went into self-isolation with COVID-19 symptoms, GP Principal Farzana Hussain switched the Project Surgery in Newham, East London entirely to online triage to save it from closing. The practice has a list size of 5,000 and currently only two GPs, as two are on maternity leave.

Using the Online Consult system from EMIS Health enabled the practice to continue treating patients despite the staff shortages. Dr Hussain described it as a ‘lifeline’ – allowing the practice to carry out 100 consultations a day. Online Consult is available to all 8400 GP practices across the UK, no matter which clinical system they use.

Dr Hussain said: “Before the COVID-19 outbreak, patients phoned or spoke to a receptionist at the front door before accessing a GP. Now we can run the surgery with Online Consult for all but the most vulnerable patients, or those without technology."

“Online Consult is much safer for all and it has transformed how we work”

Dr Farzana Hussain, The Project Surgery, Newham

Online Consult allows patients to go online to fill in a form, which is triaged by a GP or advanced nurse practitioner (ANP). If necessary, they are offered a phone consultation. Patients who do not need to speak to a GP or ANP are signposted to self-help health information.

The system has seen a surge in use across GP surgeries. More than double the number of online forms were submitted in the first quarter of 2020, compared to the previous quarter, rising from 18,548 to 42,121.

“It’s been phenomenally good,” said Dr Hussain. “Thirty per cent of patients can be helped online; the remainder I phone and offer advice, a prescription or a referral onwards. These are patients who would turn up at A&E if they did not have access to a GP.

“Until we switched entirely to Online Consult, two GPs were doing phone consultations with about 80 patients a day.

“Because online triage is so much quicker, we are offering 20 extra appointments a day. That’s effectively one extra clinic”

Dr Hussain

Dr Hussain said not only did her patients like the new system, it was a morale booster for staff too. “Before, we were all isolated in our own consulting rooms for most of the day. Now we can triage together in the same room and share expertise.”

As clinical director of the Newham Central One GP Network, Dr Hussain believes Online Consult could have a ‘huge impact’ on care at six other practices in the neighbourhood, covering 66,000 patients.

The system comes with customisable and pre-built forms that ensure GP practices can cover a range of patient queries. It is also proving particularly useful for nervous or anxious patients, who can answer questions online and in detail rather than in a face-to-face consultation.

Patients, who can access the forms through the practice’s website or Patient Access, are able to post questions online 24/7, and the surgery responds during working hours.

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