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eConsult Blog

Too many questions? We respectfully disagree

Riccardo Garavani  | 28th April 2021
ask every question

Patients sometimes complain that eConsult “asks too many questions”. We respectfully disagree.

If you’ve never been a GP, it’s easy to understand why, in the age of chatbots, a patient would prefer to fire off a quick paragraph outlining their symptoms then receive a magic diagnosis back from their doctor a few days later.

However, as practising GPs ourselves, we know how challenging it can be to accurately triage a patient and diagnose their condition without a full patient history and a structured understanding of the symptoms they are (or aren’t) experiencing.

Over the last eight years – and through over 13 million online consultations – we have built, tested and refined a series of questions that save lives on a daily basis. 

“Does it feel like you’ve been hit over the head with a baseball bat?” might seem like a superfluous one, but it saved the life of a 23-year-old man with a “headache” whose subarachnoid haemorrhage was immediately and urgently identified in A&E by our triage platform.

We are worried about the impact of free-text box only platforms on patient safety, and so are more than a third (38%) of UK GPs.

One alternative to eConsult’s approach has emerged throughout the coronavirus lockdown: the free text box only platform. A recent study of over 250 UK GPs revealed that 36% of them are worried about the impact of these platforms on patient safety.

Firstly, there is a big difference between the information a patient believes is significant and what their GP needs to know to diagnose them quickly and accurately. Closed Q&As increase the likelihood of spotting life-threatening conditions quickly by asking questions a patient wouldn’t necessarily think to answer.

Secondly, in an environment where there is huge and spiralling pressure on GPs, a free text box approach moves the burden of explanation off the patient and onto the doctor, meaning more follow up from the practice to get the information they need. Little wonder that 38% of doctors believe free text box-only platforms have increased their workload.

No shortcuts: the solution to effective digital triage is asking every question that matters every time.

There is a Silicon Valley-inspired model that suggests the way to succeed in any established industry is to place the customer experience right at the centre. It’s a blueprint that has revolutionized dozens of sectors – retail, travel, food delivery and transport – since the dawn of the internet.

However, as doctors who have worked inside the NHS for decades, we know that making life easier for the patient isn’t always the top priority. We must sometimes focus on the protection, support and empowerment of the cadre of highly trained and skilled GPs that the whole of the UK is relying on.

Our approach isn’t necessarily going to be the only approach, that’s why we listen to feedback from patients as well as practices to continue improving our platforms, but patient safety is our priority.

And so we keep asking questions.

Find out why eConsult’s online triage service is trusted by over 3,500 GP practices across the UK.

Want to talk things through?