How to prevent ‘patient bottlenecking’ in your practice

In the wider world, technology is seen to drive development; this is no different in the health sector. Where time is of the essence, staff are over-burdened and time a finite resource, health-tech might hold the answer to streamlining processes and helping practices to run more efficiently. Keith Nurcombe, sales and marketing director at DoctorLink, considers how new solutions can be introduced to support practices

KeithLast month at NHS Expo, the secretary of state for health – Jeremy Hunt – reinforced his ongoing support for the use of digital innovation to modernise our public health system. While this was welcome news, his suggested goal – to offer seamless access to GP appointments as a gift the NHS can give to patients on its 70th birthday – missed the mark to some extent.

Not only is that date nearly a year away, it raises the issue for already stretched practice managers and partners about how to make this happen.

Patient demand

At a time when patient demand is ballooning, our recent survey of NHS GPs found that there is growing appetite among GPs to trial new med-tech solutions to alleviate current pressures and to apply new solutions to manage patient demand at an individual surgery level while the NHS rolls out its digital strategy more broadly. For example, more than half of GPs (53%) thought that, in reality, the uptake of med-tech solutions would be the best way to future-proof NHS surgeries. In particular, 96% of GPs said that they would be interested in trying digital triage tools, of which 56% said that they would definitely try them.

One step at a time

Taking small, incremental steps at practice level, such as adoption of digital triage, can have a significant impact and help to unlock the latent capacity that’s consumed by the staggering number of unnecessary patient appointments. Almost half of GPs we surveyed thought up to 40% of their appointments each day are technically unnecessary. By helping GP surgeries to manage demand for same day appointments and channeling patients towards appropriate alternative sources of advice and treatment, digital solutions can help to ensure GPs aren’t always the first port of call, bottlenecking primary care. By taking triage out of GPs hands, online triage and advice tools can provide the peace of mind that those patients who truly need medical intervention are seen, and where home care is possible, patients have medically accredited advice to support self-care.

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Across the country, we’ve been working with practice managers and GPs in NHS surgeries to pilot DoctorLink, a new digital triage and advice tool designed specifically to integrate with NHS systems. Over six months, we have gleaned their insights to ensure DoctorLink works for, and not against, them – especially for balancing when to direct patients to a clinician, without being overly cautious and burdening surgeries further.

Implementing new solutions like this can take time, but our experiences have found that the following five steps can improve the likelihood of a successful transition:

  • Focus on manageable, incremental changes that will deliver improvement rather than trying to do too much, too soon.
  • Identify solutions that combine rigourous, clinically-approved algorithms but that offer a simple user experience.
  • Start with digitally savvy patients and use their positive experiences to ‘convert’ other patients.
  • Communicate changes to patients cleary and consistently – keep steering them to using new channels and approaches until it becomes the norm.
  • Use data generated to inform patient management strategies and consultations.

By exploring the digital solutions that are already available to surgeries and developing an effective implementation strategy, surgeries can be empowered to act before the NHS turns 70.

About the author

Keith Nurcombe is the sales and marketing director at DoctorLink; he will also be speaking on this subject at the RCGP Annual Conference on October 12 and at Best Practice on October 18.

More information about the survey and the recommended steps is provided in DoctorLink’s whitepaper Getting Better: Applying Digital Innovation to Future-proof NHS GP Surgeries.

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