More than 40,000 patients are already making ‘virtual visits’ to their doctor as online consultations are rolled out in Trafford GP practices.
Patients at Boundary House Medical Centre in Sale have been accessing the online system since October enabling more patients to be ‘seen’ by their GP more quickly and reducing the need for patients travel to the practice for face-to-face appointments.
St Johns Medical Practice in Altrincham introduced the online consultation service at the start of January and Flixton Road Medical Centre’s 10,700 patients have been using the service since last week.
Already across all three practices more than 70% of patients are contacting their GPs via the online system rather than facing long telephone queues. And with more patients being treated via the online system, GPs are able to dedicate face-to-face appointment time to vulnerable patients with complex needs.
Accessed via the GP practice website, patients outline their symptoms online to their doctor and have the ability to upload images, for example of a rash which may be of concern. The information enables GPs to then prioritise patient needs and respond via message, telephone or by allocating face-to-face appointments.
Sale’s Boundary House Medical Centre was first Trafford practice to pilot the service. Proving to be “incredibly popular” with patients, Dr Paul Jackson, GP Partner at Boundary House, said patients were able to be treated more effectively. He explained: “Online consultation makes GP access easier for patients by providing another channel for efficient healthcare. Using the website, patients tell us their symptoms at a time which suits them and how they would prefer to be contacted by us – via SMS or telephone for example. It provides patients with a welcome alternative to long telephone queues – especially at 8am on a Monday – when trying to contact a GP.”
Dr Jackson added that the need for face-to-face appointments had reduced “dramatically” with 62% of patient queries requiring a GP response by telephone or message. He said: “The service is proving incredibly popular as it saves the majority of patients the hassle of having to take time out of their day to visit the practice or be on hold in a telephone queue. And it’s been used by all ages: our oldest online contact so far has been a 92-year-old.”
GPs at Boundary House Medical Centre have been able to respond to online consultation queries within minutes during practice opening hours and are also reacting to online queries out of hours from patients.
Dr Maz Sangha, GP Partner at St Johns Medical Practice in Altrincham, added: “We’ve already found the service enables us to treat more patients more quickly with consultation times cut as patients have already briefed us of their symptoms online. Thus, doctors are able to dedicate more time to patients with more complex conditions.”
While Trafford patients have previously had to opportunity to book/cancel an appointment online, order repeat prescriptions and see their test results, this new ‘virtual visit’ system provides patients with a direct line to their GP where their symptoms are assessed and treated.
Added Dr Sangha: “We are keen for all patients to be seen as quickly as possible and want to reassure patients that this is just one method of seeing your doctor. For those who may need help with the process we are always available via the telephone and our reception team is more than happy to help patients complete their online consultation details.”
Across Trafford, other GP practices are also planning to roll-out the service to their patients in the near future.
Dr Mark Jarvis, Medical Director at NHS Trafford Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: “We are committed to supporting a range of solutions which benefit patients across Trafford, not least digitally. General practice is the bedrock of the NHS and often the first contact patients have with the healthcare system. Though general practice has remained consistent in the way it delivers services to patients for decades, we must embrace change and the digital solutions being offered now have proved that progress is not detrimental to patient care and satisfaction.”