Making online GP consultations a reality in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent

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People living in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent will soon find it easier to access appointments with their GP, thanks to the implementation of online consultation systems across the city and county.

Partners of Together We’re Better, the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Sustainability and Transformation Partnership, are working to make GP online consultations a reality across the patch, offering alternative options to patients and carers, whilst saving time and money in general practice.

National funds have been released to stimulate the use of online consultation systems in the area, as part of the General Practice Forward View (GPFV). These systems, which improve access for patients and make the best use of clinicians’ time, have proved popular with patients of all ages at a national level and can free up capacity for GPs to spend more time providing more complex care for those who need it.

Online consultations take approximately seven minutes for the patient to run through the process, and offer many benefits, such as the option for patients to review self-care options before submitting a request for consultation. The 24-hour system can be accessed via a practice’s website. An online form can then be completed by the patient where they can include details of their symptoms. The online form is then submitted to their practice and can be used to seek advice on things such as a new medicine query, an update on their progress eg actions following test results or a question about their care. Patients can access the systems from all devices, including PCs, laptops, mobile phones and tablets around the clock.

Already 24 practice sites have been selected to pilot the e-consultation systems across every Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, covering 20% of all practices in the City and County. These pilot sites will provide the evidence base for further roll out across the whole of Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent.

Marcus Warnes, Lead for Together We’re Better’s Enhanced Primary and Community Care programme, said: “It is fantastic to see that 19 of the 24 pilot general practice sites are already beginning to implement this new system, with the other five not far behind. We are hoping that 50% of the practices in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent will be live with the e-consultation systems by the beginning of summer 2019. For this, we are helping practices to focus on the organisational change that is needed, as much as the adoption of the systems. It is positive to see the pilot sites committing to a new way of working so openly, as this will in turn help to engage patients with the new service.”

Dr Ruth Chambers, Clinical Lead for the project, said: “The potential which is offered by the use of online consultation triage is huge. By utilising these systems, GPs and nurses should be able to work more productively in their practices and manage their workload better by providing some patients accessing the system with solutions to the health issues they share remotely instead of a face to face consultation. This should enable GPs and practice nurses to prioritise more time for seeing patients with more complex needs whose health problems cannot be dealt with remotely.”

Simon Whitehouse, Together We’re Better Director, said: “It is really important that we find ways to improve the patient experience and to improve access to local services. This approach is one way of starting to do that and it is really positive to see the initial uptake in this area. We have worked hard with partners across our system to get the ball rolling with the implementation of these systems and we are keen to see them develop. Local General Practice services remain at the core of our health and care system but are under significant pressure. We need to continue to explore ways to help them meet the needs of local people.”

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