Dr John McCormick is a GP Partner at Kingskerswell and Ipplepen Health Centre in South Devon, as well as Chief Clinical Information Officer at South Devon and New Devon CCGs. His practice has been using eConsult since April 2017. Spread across two sites, and serving 11,000 patients, the practice covers a varied demographic across urban and rural settings. As eConsult prepares to roll out across the whole of Devon, John discusses his own experience of online consulting.
Why did you want to set up online consulting in your practice?
I have a particular interest in how we can harness technology to improve patient care, so have always been open to the use of online consulting. As a pioneering practice, we’ve always been interested in new ways of working that benefit both our patients and staff.
We are rated outstanding by the CQC, so never saw eConsult as a quick-fix solution to a broken system. Rather, we saw it as a way of keeping up-to-date with advances in technology. I bank online, so why can’t I access my GP online? Online consulting seems the logical next step in the evolution of general practice, from face-to-face to telephone to digital. We tried interacting with patients over email in the past but this didn’t seem a robust or secure workflow solution – which is where eConsult came in. Since then we’ve never looked back.
What has the reception been like from patients?
In general we’ve had very good feedback from our patients – people seem to really like it. We audit the process to ensure it is safe, and so far nothing significant has been missed.
Quality is a top priority for us. We want to make eConsult as helpful as possible for our patients, so we provide training to all our clinical staff to ensure our responses are high quality and robust. We may include links to relevant information on patient.co.uk, for example, or links to healthcare videos online or even apps. Sending high quality and useful responses to patients has helped to build positive word-of-mouth throughout the practice, engaging even more patients with the idea of online consulting.
Quite a few of our over 60s are keen users of eConsult. We’ve had really good experiences with some of our 70 to 80 year old patients, who are a lot more tech-savvy than many people assume. What helps is that the eConsult system is so easy to use – it’s designed for functionality, with no user manual necessary.
What has the impact been for staff working in the practice?
The practice staff – both admin and clinical – all really like it. Combining eConsult with patient online services has freed up our phone lines considerably. Whereas two years ago all ten lines were off the hook at once, now we only need two to three members of staff to answer the phones – the vast majority of queries are now going through online.
For clinical staff, eConsult has helped to stop the steady rise in workload pressure that has been increasingly difficult to manage over the past few years. It has freed up time, creating some breathing space for clinicians to manage their working day more effectively.
How have you integrated eConsult into your everyday practice?
While integrating eConsult into our workflow, we were mindful that we didn’t want requests flying in at all times of day, creating extra work for clinical staff. We therefore built time into the work day specifically for online consulting – protected time for GPs to grab a coffee and work through four to five eConsults at a time. This system has worked really well, and has ensured that all requests are dealt with on time.
As I’ve mentioned before, providing a high quality service is really important to us, and one of the ways we do this is by training our staff how to effectively communicate with patients online. We get together each month to share our reflections from cases that have gone well, and cases that haven’t gone so well. We hope that theses learnings will help us continue to improve the way we use eConsult for the benefit of our patients.