Online consultation: more convenient for patients and GPs

10 Nov 2016

An online consultation service is saving GPs time and proving popular with a majority of the patients using it at 20 south London practices.

A recent report from the Health Innovation Network South London on user feedback from a pilot of the online self-triage and patient information service at the Hurley Group practices found that 75% of patients would use it again over booking a face-to-face appointment with their GP. Sixty-four per cent also claimed that it had saved them time. GPs say it is enabling them to work more efficiently.

eConsult, available via each GP practice’s own website, gives patients access to self-help information including symptom checkers; signposts alternative services where appropriate and the option to complete an online consultation.  It is now available to any GP practice, regardless of the clinical IT system they use, via EMIS Health.

Almost 1 in 10 patients at the Hurley Group’s Riverside Medical Centre are now using the service.

GP Ross Dyer-Smith has been using the software for three years. The majority of his patients who need to consult a GP are dealt with via telephone and do not need to attend the surgery. Two thirds of patients across the surgery who use eConsult resolve their query without having to attend for a face-to-face appointment.

As well as being more convenient for patients, eConsult also increases efficiency, with GPs able to handle three eConsults in the time it would take them to see one patient.

“It allows us to not only treat more patients in the same time, it also improves the quality of the service we can offer. Seventy per cent of my patients who use the service can have their issue resolved without having to come into the practice.”

Dr Dyer-Smith

“For those who do continue with an appointment, the GP has the chance to read about their ideas, concerns and expectations first. Patients tend to be more honest answering the questions online than if they were asked in person. This means I often already know the questions I’m going to ask before I start and am able to get straight into offering advice.”

While he recognises that online triage and consulting is unfamiliar for many doctors, he believes it has real potential to tackle the pressures on primary care and is constantly looking to increase the number of patients using eConsult. “We have to do anything that we can to improve efficiency, make better use of our time and ultimately improve the patient’s experience.”

Matt Murphy, managing director at EMIS Health said: “We are proud to work with the Hurley Group on the eConsult service, and delighted with the results of this initial study. It shows that not only can online triage save time for hard-pressed GPs, but importantly it is enabling patients to consult with their GP without than having to visit the practice.  I am sure that we will see further benefits for clinicians and patients alike from this service, which is helping clinicians to shape the future of general practice.”