Devon’s GP practices are helping the fight against COVID-19 by enabling patients to consult their doctor without leaving the house, either online, on the telephone or through video.
Last year, NHS England recommended all GP practices log all patient appointment queries either online or over the phone for clinicians to review before allocating appointments accordingly. This process had already been implemented across practices in the South West before the COVID-19 epidemic. Now implementation has been accelerated across England to cope with demand.
There are approximately 30 different online products available to GP practices in the South West to embed in their websites to enable patients to raise online consultation requests. One of these products, eConsult, which allows patients to access services from their smartphone, tablet or computer, has been implemented by 90% of Devon practices. In March more than 34,000 consultations via the eConsult online platform were processed by practices across the county.
Dr John McCormick, Devon GP and chief clinical information officer for NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, believes the upsurge is an important step in battling the coronavirus and easing pressure on services.
“This is extremely encouraging, because it shows our GPs are quickly adapting to new technology – including phone and video consultations – to continue providing care during the coronavirus pandemic. Increased eConsult usage is also helping to relieve pressure on services and manage the increasing demand that already existed, pre-pandemic.”
Patients are also embracing the new technology. In the first week of April, more than 2,200 video consultations took place in Devon. A patient of Dr McCormick’s Kingskerswell Medical Practice, said: “I recently had a video consultation on my iPhone with my own doctor. It was like being sat in the surgery with him. He sent me the link, which I downloaded, and followed the simple instructions.”
Most online consultation products involve patients filling out a short online form. This allows patients to ask about an existing condition or new symptoms, find out how to treat themselves and request sick notes. Online platforms offer other support and signposting too. For example, eConsult includes a wealth of self-help tools, such as symptom-checkers and videos, and signposts patients to additional help, including pharmacies, the NHS 111 helpline or approved apps.
Information that patients submit online is reviewed by a member of the practice team. The practice gets in touch by the end of the next working day to let patients know the next step. This might be a phone consultation, advice on how the patients can treat themselves, a prescription or a video consultation, or (pre-COVID-19) a face-to-face appointment, if it’s necessary. Patients who are unable to use online or video consultation services can continue to call their practice in the normal way.
The South West Academic Health Science Network (SW AHSN) has been deploying members of its team to support practices across Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to implement online and video consultation tools. To ensure full implementation across the region, the SW AHSN is working closely with fellow AHSNs in Wessex and the West of England to understand data in each county, map the processes of individual practices, and to offer practices support to help them with implementation.
As well as helping to battle the coronavirus, online consultation can make life easier for patients as they can use the services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This means they avoid queuing on the phone, receive the care they need more quickly, and can be matched to the most appropriate clinicians to deal with their condition. Online consultation also provides an alternative for patients who find it difficult discussing their condition with a clinician face-to-face.
For more information and to find out how your surgery could benefit, please contact SW AHSN director of delivery, Stuart Monk firstname.lastname@example.org.