Medical Centre responds to criticism of move to online consultation system

A medical centre has responded to criticism of a new online consultation system: ‘we aren’t pushing people away – we want to help people be seen more quickly’

This is an edited version of an article first published by Bridport News.

Online consultation access is a contractual requirement for all practices from April 2020.

The partners at Bridport Medical Centre say that, together with Dorset CCG, they reviewed several suppliers of online consultation software and believe patients registered at the centre will get a quicker service at their GP practice with the introduction of eConsult.

eConsult is an online system which enables patients to complete a confidential online form which is then sent to their GP who aims to respond by 6.30pm the following day to offer advice, referral to an alternative service or an appointment if necessary.

eConsult can be used by anyone aged over 16 and, during the consultation process, if you give any indication that you have urgent symptoms you will be advised to call 999 or attend the local emergency department.

But concerns have been raised by patients about on-the-day appointment availability and the access to technology to book appointments.

Bridport Medical Centre’s practice manager, Eilish Davoren, has offered reassurance. Eilish said: “We are sensitive to the comments we have received and seen on social media and, whilst some of the feedback has been upsetting for the team who are trying to do their best for our patients, we absolutely recognise that some people may find the move to eConsult daunting or they may not be convinced of the benefits.

“We want to reassure people who are not online, or find the process too difficult, that we are still available via the existing phone number and will be more than happy to assist them to complete their online consultation. We aren’t pushing people away – we want to help people be seen more quickly.”

According to the practice, 824 eConsults were submitted in November and an estimated 494 appointments were saved.

Dr Ian Platt said: “A significant benefit is to ensure that patients are seen by the correct person in the correct time frame. A well-completed e-Consult provides us with a significant amount of information. We can then use the information to ensure that the patient receives either an appointment in the appropriate time frame or alternatively a prescription/self-help advice if it appropriate to do so. We can ensure that the limited resource of face-to-face appointments are used in the most efficient manner.”

eConsult forms are triaged by practice staff then results are added to a patient’s medical records and a virtual appointment is scheduled with their GP where the results are reviewed and a course of action will be decided.

Details are then returned to the patient via email or SMS.

Dr Platt said: “A good example of how eConsult works could be a patient who has vague symptoms. They may wait two or three weeks to see me under a routine appointment only to be told that they require blood tests. These may take a week or so to book, then there is a further wait to see me for the results. With eConsult we can identify tests required, get them booked and follow up the results if there is any concern – this saves considerable time for both the patient and ensures at follow up all results are available to discuss.”

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