Middleton Park and Cottingley GP Surgeries have launched an online consultation service that enables patients to complete an online consultation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with a guarantee that a Doctor or Nurse Practitioner will review and get in touch to discuss next steps.
Both surgeries are now run by the Fuller & Forbes Partnership and are branch surgeries of the Bramley Village Health and Wellbeing Centre.
The online consultation service covers more than 60 health-related problems and is based on evidence-based guidance issued by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence meaning that patients are asked the same questions during the online consultation as they would be asked during a face to face appointment. They will also receive the same support including, for example, health advice, prescription for medication, referral to hospital, sick note or other treatment recommendation. Patients who complete an online consultation will be invited to the surgery for a face to face appointment only if a physical examination is required.
Dr Mark Fuller, GP Partner, said:
“The online consultation service does not replace a GP appointment because it is a GP appointment, but one designed to be more convenient for the patient, more efficient for the practice and just as comprehensive. Further, rather than the traditional wait for a face-to-face appointment, most of our online consultations are dealt with the same day, but the next working day at the latest if they are received late afternoon or evening. We still, of course, offer face to face appointments in addition to online consultations.”
With most GP surgeries in England facing appointment shortages and patients routinely facing difficulties calling their surgery, often resulting from such shortages, Middleton Park GP Surgery seeks to remove this pressure by providing readily available online consultations with a guaranteed response within 24 working hours.
Dr Mark Fuller, explains:
“When we took over Middleton Park GP Surgery in April 2019 we had few clinical staff and as a result, a shortage of appointments. We embarked upon a recruitment program as well as looking at new ways to provide healthcare to our patient population. Everyone knows that there is a national shortage of GPs and Nurses and so we believe that offering an online consultation service that is more convenient for patients and more efficient for the surgery provides a positive way forward where we can offer more with our current resources ensuring that patients obtain the advice and treatment they need without worrying about whether they will be able to get an appointment.“
The Practice explains that once an online consultation is received, this is added to the patient record and then the most appropriate clinician will review the consultation and get in touch with the patient to discuss next steps.
Dr Mark Fuller describes the benefits:
“For example, if a patient develops a health problem in the evening, they can open up the smartphone app or visit our website and complete a full online consultation safe in the assurance that a GP will review their consultation and get in touch the next day to discuss next steps. More specifically, if a patient states that they are facing a mental health issue, then it might be that a GP specialising in mental health is the one who will review the consultation and make contact with the patient.”
The online consultation service was launched on 7 October 2019 and since then over 250 online consultations have been carried out.
Mr Methven Forbes, Managing Partner, describes some of the additional benefits:
“We can certainly understand why the number of online consultations are increasing rapidly. For example, patients can be anxious when they attend for a face-to-face appointment. They might also be stressed and worried. Combined with the time pressure of a 10 minute face-to-face appointment, we think that sometimes it can be difficult for patients to communicate everything they wish to communicate, especially if they have had to wait a short while for that appointment. If we are honest, we have all been in situations where we think back and say to ourselves ‘I wish I remembered to say this or that’. Added to that, is the fact that the GP is often basing their treatment advice on what the patient is telling them, notwithstanding any examination that might be necessary.”
“Our view is that in many cases, the information submitted through an online consultation is likely to be more accurate and comprehensive because the patient does not have to rush to say everything they need. They can take their time to complete fully knowing that it will be properly reviewed by a clinician who will be in touch. This means patients can submit a consultation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from any location via our app or website. From a Doctors’ perspective, having fully completed information they can review before calling the patient is extremely efficient as the Doctor can understand much more quickly and fully the issues the patient is facing.”
Since launch in October 2019, the number of online consultations has increased to an average of 20 per day. Over 60 health problems are available with the most popular being depression, back pain, skin conditions, earache, and general advice. The Practice has also recently launched a service that allows patients to request a sick note, a hospital referral, and medication via its smartphone app and website.
Mr Methven Forbes added:
“The NHS is in the midst of a digital revolution. The context is that the biggest form of communication is now SMS messaging and most people now have a smartphone. Health services are now slowly recognising that there are advantages to offering access via non-traditional methods. Yet GP Surgeries, as a whole, are still designed in such a way that patients call at 8am to have a chance at obtaining a face-to-face appointment. The truth is that the NHS is facing a shortage of GPs and Nurses and this leads to significant pressures. Our biggest concern is that patients who genuinely need help or advice are unable to get that help or advice because services simply are unable to offer the number of appointments to meet demand.”
Dr Mark Fuller adds:
“Our online consultation service does not replace face-to-face appointments. However, we want to make it easier for patients to avoid the inconvenience of taking time off work to visit the surgery for a face-to-face appointment if this is not necessary and where we can provide the same healthcare in a way that is more accessible, convenient and quicker. The added benefit of all this is that there are patients who genuinely need to be seen face-to-face, especially if they need a physical examination or, for example, facing a bereavement. The more patients appropriately use our online services, the more face-to-face appointments will be available for those that truly need them.”
You can download the smartphone app by searching ‘Bramley Online’ in the Iphone App store or Google Play store. Alternatively, visit www.bramleyonline.co.uk. The service is for registered patients only. However, the Practice is open to new patients registering, which can be done at the same time as completion of an online GP consultation.
This post is based on a press release issued by Bramley Village Health and Wellbeing Centre