New free online system helps Scottish GPs manage patient demand during coronavirus outbreak

30 Mar 2020

A new online system that enables Scottish GPs to triage patients before they arrive at the practice is helping them manage potential coronavirus cases, while ensuring face-to-face appointments are managed safely and speedily.

Dr James Stewart
Dr James Stewart

Online Consult from EMIS Health, is now being made available free of charge to 924 EMIS Health and Vision GP practices in Scotland for 12 weeks, as part of the company’s drive to respond to increasing demand on GP practices during the COVID-19 pandemic. Online Consult helps them to:

  • free up telephone lines, reducing pressure on admin staff
  • reduce the need for patients to attend the surgery in person
  • manage patients, providing GPs with access to clinically validated care pathways
  • manage workload, while keeping communication lines open for patients 24/7.

The system has enabled St Luke’s Medical Practice at Carluke in Lanarkshire to manage patient demand no matter the type of issue – whether coronavirus or an unrelated problem. A specially-tailored online form allows the practice to help patients with coronavirus type symptoms according to national guidelines for treatment. Patients with other issues not related to coronavirus are using the system to seek help if they do not want to go to their practice because they are concerned about infection or do not want to take up an appointment.

Senior GP partner at St Luke’s, Dr James Stewart, said: “Online Consult enabled us to create our own dedicated coronavirus form, which patients have found reassuring, and it is very useful for us in the current climate.”

Dr Sarah Jarvis MBE, Clinical Director for Patient, said: “Using Online Consult can dramatically reduce the number of patients requiring face to face assessment, which has never been more important than during the current coronavirus pandemic.

“In CCGs which have implemented Online Consult for all (except very vulnerable) patients, as many as 36% of people using the tool do not submit a form because they receive all the information they need to self-manage.

“Of those who do submit a form, the information is comprehensive enough that 3 in 4 patients can be managed without a face to face consultation.”

Seeing the results in Lanarkshire

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic and before rolling out the system, St Luke’s Medical Practice in Carluke offered an open access clinic every morning to the 11,300 patients on its list. It meant that patients had to get there before 9.30am – but they would wait anything up to two hours in a queue to be seen. With Online Consult they were then able to go online to fill in a form, triaged by a GP. If necessary, they were offered a same-day appointment. Prior to the pandemic it had proven popular with patients and practice staff alike.

Senior partner Dr James Stewart said “The system has allowed us to control and manage our workoad. It enables us to direct patients to the most appropriate member of the team, advise, prescribe or answer queries without necessarily seeing the patient”.

“It has certainly improved the wait times for patients who used to attend open access. I think having a description of what the patient’s problem is leads to quicker referrals to physio, podiatry and so on without needing to see a GP first. We can often arrange tests before patients see us to allow a more complete consultation with all the necessary information to allow diagnosis and referral. I would highly recommend the system.”

The easy-to-use 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 are able to 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, are able to post questions online 24/7, and the surgery responds during working hours.

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