Only a few years ago the idea of patients making an appointment or asking for a repeat prescription online seemed advanced; in our practice this is now only a small part of what patients can expect to do online. Over a year ago we decided to move from a ‘brochure-ware’ site to a full ‘digital practice’. Patients visiting our practice website will find decision trees that guide them through a series of questions so that they can access the information they need. If they can’t solve their problem we give them the ability to make over three dozen different request types online, ranging from tracking a referral to health reviews.
This approach supports the current shift towards the government’s ‘digital first’ strategy, encouraging people to help themselves rather than needing to ask someone where they can find the information they need. By providing information digitally we can speed up the process for both the patient and the practice.
Creating convenient access
Having had the system available for over a year we have seen a significant shift in patient behaviour. When we have surveyed patients we have found that this approach often saves a visit or ‘phone call to the practice. Patients love the new online way of doing things and have quickly come on board with this way of contacting us. Within the first few weeks of launch we were receiving a significant number of requests online; since June 2016 we have received 2,752 online requests! The most popular ones were, ‘Ask the Doctor a question’ and ‘Ask the practice a question’. We’ve also had 287 new patients register online.
From the practice’s perspective this approach has allowed us to offer more convenient access to patients at times outside the surgery hours. Our staff love using the system as it allows us more time to answer patient requests and to do so at a time that is convenient to us, rather than the ‘on demand’ service which the telephone or a visit to the surgery requires. At first we had just two or three members of the team who were familiar with using the system but now the entire surgery receives and responds to patient communication from the digital practice.
Adopting this new approach has helped us plan for a future CQC Inspection. We have neatly put all our policies and information about out practice – including our ‘friends and family test’ – in one part of the site which represents the ‘bricks and mortar’ part of our surgery. In this way we can easily keep the information up-to-date and it can easily be retrieved by inspectors prior to a visit to the surgery.
In just one year we have come a long way from our old website which offered limited patient interaction with the surgery. We are continually discovering new areas to develop but, for now, our ‘digital practice’ has certainly moved our surgery into the digital age.
To visit our new digital practice visit www.waterfieldpractice.co.uk