When the NHS Online app went live in Bexley, December 2017, it’s fair to say that not all GP practices were completely sold on the idea. Take up was good, with 24 out of the 26 surgeries taking part, but some embraced the move into eConsulting far more readily than others.
Dr Sid Deshmukh from Sidcup Medical Centre was one such GP with a host of reservations. He worried that by offering eConsultations, he could potentially increase GP work load and create a two tier system. The elderly, those without a smart phone or internet access, or those who simply want didn’t go online, would be left behind in the move to digital. However, Dr Deshmukh agreed to go ahead with the pilot to see how it played out. Six weeks on, Dr Deshmukh is a complete convert, he is now passionate about the benefits that the NHS Online app powered by eConsult offers to both patients and GPs.
Once Sidcup Medical Centre decided to go ahead with the pilot, they threw themselves into making it a success. Instead of automatically booking appointments or adding names to a telephone triage list, receptionists were trained to direct callers to the app or surgery website with guidance on helping patients complete the eConsult. Adverts and information were posted around the surgery and the website boasts a bespoke eConsultation banner, with the promise that if the eConsultation is made between 08.00 and 17.00 Monday – Friday, the patient will get a response within two hours.
Dr Deshmukh’s worry about increasing GP workload was without foundation, the four GPs who triage patients are absolutely sold on the eConsultation process. Telephone triage often produced inconsistent and sometimes incomplete answers. With an eConsultation, the questions are uniform and fully comprehensive. Once the patient arrives at the surgery for their face to face appointment, the GP is able get straight on with the physical examination, reducing appointment times and freeing time for other patients.
It’s not only the GPs who are happy with eConsult, the patients are also embracing the new technology. In just six weeks, Sidcup Medical Centre has converted one in four patients to eConsult, equating to 40% of all eConsults in Bexley. Dr Deshmukh comments, “I was unsure of the value of online consultations before we started using them in our practice. I am now convinced they work – for doctors as well as patients.”
Over time Dr Deshmukh is confident that more and more patients will switch from traditional telephone triage to eConsultation. During the six week period, 30% of appointments not made via eConsult were under 18 year olds, who are not currently eligible to use eConsult. Once the paediatric version of eConsult comes on stream in early 2018, Sidcup Medical Centre expects to see a further shift online.
Dr Deshmukh is delighted that the Sidcup Medical Centre is part of the Bexley online pilot powered by eConsult and says, ‘to all the sceptic GPs out there, I’d say try it – it’s proving to be a surprising gleam at the end of what often feels like a long and very dark tunnel.’