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Could your Practice and its Patients Benefit from Digital Age Consultations?

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The modern GP practice houses all sorts of technology and yet much goes underused. When saying this, we’re not talking about modern clinical and diagnostic tools − they are used when needed. We’re talking about other tools that can be used to save a GP’s valuable time.

In our post The Practice Manager’s Five-Minute Guide to Making Time in General Practice, we summarised the key recommendations of the NHS Alliance and Primary Care Foundation report, ‘Making Time in General Practice’. This concentrated on cutting the time it takes to get through paperwork.

This post discusses how modern technology could be used to better effect, to reduce wait times and increase practice efficiency, and the benefits and challenges of doing so.

You’ve probably already made a great start

Many practices have already taken strides to increasing efficiency of their service. Some are using Internet booking systems. Others remind patients of appointments by SMS messaging. Internal systems and processes have been streamlined, too. More are using online prescription renewals every day.

The next natural step in the streamlining process is in the area of virtual (or video) consultations, which are already becoming commonplace in the United States. Technology to conduct these is readily available – Skype and FaceTime, for example, are robust and cheap (even free) video/call services commonly used in a variety of businesses and organisations.

Although care in absentia is not a new practice, these new technologies have the capability to transform the way in which primary care is delivered.


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Providing a digital service in the digital age

As patient lists evolve, increasing numbers will be the millennial generation that seem to live their life online. It makes sense for these patients to conduct their healthcare as they do their everyday lives. Instead of taking a morning off work to visit the doctor for a ten-minute consultation, many appointments could be conducted and completed online.

The challenge for the GP practice is threefold:

- Delivering this kind of service in a technically efficient manner

- Ensuring that safety of care is maintained

- Achieving the expected productivity improvements

Benefits for GPs and patients

There are benefits for both patients and GPs in the virtual world. We’ve already seen how people who may be working miles away from their doctor’s surgery could benefit from timesaving. This timesaving is equalled by the time that doctors serving patients in rural areas would save when making home visits (and the patients’ time on visiting their doctor, of course). Environmentally, fewer journeys would reduce fuel consumption.

Reducing the spread of infection

Fewer people in the waiting room will reduce the spread of infection. Video consulting could be a major factor in the future of treating and eliminating flu epidemics, for example.

Encouragement of self-care

There is a major push towards ownership of one’s own health care, and responsibility for it. Video consultations should help this process. In the future, it is highly likely that self-monitoring equipment in the home could be linked to the video consultation process, and even with results transmitted online.

What challenges does your practice face to benefit from technology?

The benefits of employing modern technology in the consultation process are real and tangible. However, doing so does not come without its challenges.

The first of these, culture, affects every stakeholder: doctors, patients, suppliers, specialists, and reception staff. There has to be a cultural shift in accepted process and procedure. It has to be shown to be a timesaver and cost reducer. It also has to be shown to be safe and effective. This might be best done by starting within a small trial of patients, monitoring results and measuring satisfaction. Once expectations have been met, then the process can be more fully rolled out with less resistance.

Second, video consultations might lead to fewer consultations with patients with the most need. Those under long-term care plans, for example, would need more forward-planning to ensure intervention happens as it should.

Thirdly, the ease of video consultation might increase the number of requests for appointments. Your virtual waiting room might be busier than your actual waiting room.

This could also present a propensity to overprescribe. A way to reduce this potential would be to ensure that robust and monitored procedures and policies are in place.

In summary

The potential to use and benefit from modern technology is increasing all the time. As this technology evolves and patients themselves become more adapt at its use, the possibilities for improvements in efficiency and productivity should grow. However, there will be training needs that need to be resourced and financed, and a cultural shift in the way people think about health service delivery.

We are already beginning to see such a shift happening. In the United States, patient video consultation procedures are more advanced than they are here.

In the UK, the drive for efficiency is already becoming embedded on the service provision end. Consultant Connect offers a service that allows GPs to contact local hospital specialty consultants directly and immediately. This results in a reduction in unnecessary referrals, lower costs, and faster access to treatment. This doctor/specialist rapid access is a metaphor for the patient/doctor video consultation that will surely gain traction in the coming months and years, as GP practices continually seek ways to provide better and more targeted services. 

If you have any questions or feedback, please do not hesitate to contact me -alex.henman@esuppliesmedical.co.uk - 01865 261451

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