Primary care is having its online banking moment

21 May 2020

GP appointment stats show rapid digital switch during the COVID-19 pandemic

Statistics from our GP clinical systems have confirmed a drop in face-to-face consultations with patients since COVID-19 – and highlighted the instant switch to digital working.

Our software is used in 57% of UK GP practices and our show that in the two weeks between 2 March and 23 March, when the UK went into lockdown:

  • The number of patients consulting a GP – whether face to face, by telephone, home visit or video – fell by a third, from 3,169,664 a week to 2,135,041 a week
  • There was a rapid switch from face to face to telephone appointments, which increased by 145%, rising from 531,704 in w/c 2 March to 1,305,424 by w/c 23 March. Face to face appointments fell by almost 70%
  • Home visits dropped dramatically, decreasing by 64% (53,233 a week to 19,061 a week).

Comparing figures from w/c 2 March and w/c 4 May shows that the pattern has continued, and that total consultations have now dropped by almost 40%:

  • 1.2 million fewer patient contacts a week were recorded over this period (down from 3,169,664 in w/c 2 March to 1,936,138 in w/c 4 May) – equivalent to a 39% drop
  • There was a 70% reduction in face to face appointments per week
  • There was a 118% increase in telephone appointments per week
  • There was a 118% increase in telephone appointments per week.

There has also been a small rise in the use of video consultations since the middle of March, numbers have increased but overall remain fairly low. The company expects that some appointments recorded as being face to face (surgery) were in fact online or video consultations.

Dr Shaun O’Hanlon, chief medical officer of EMIS Group, said: “Our figures confirm that there was an almost overnight move to remote consultations following the UK lockdown. This is primary care having its ‘online banking moment’."

“NHS organisations, GPs and patients have all responded with remarkable agility and pragmatism to adapt to the new circumstances.”

Dr Shaun O’Hanlon, chief medical officer of EMIS Group

“GPs and their teams acted swiftly to reconfigure services and millions more patients have adopted digital tools.

“However, it is of course extremely concerning to see just how many patients are now not in contact with their GP at all – with an almost 40% drop in total appointments between January and May.

“We need to ensure that the most vulnerable in society are still able to, and are encouraged to, contact their GP when they need to – being mindful that while online services work for many, they aren’t suitable for everyone.”

EMIS Health’s statistics currently don’t break out the number of online-only consultations conducted to triage initial patient contacts. Many of these are likely to have been included in the ‘surgery’ (face to face) section of appointment reporting.

“NHS England’s introduction of the ‘total triage’ approach has led to an explosion in the number of online-only consultations. Anecdotally, we believe these may now account for 40% of all GP-patient contacts”