NHSE publishes toolkit for implementing online GP consultations

New guidance suggests GP surgeries should share good practice, help build connections and support the vision of the NHS Long Term Plan when implementing online consultations. They are hoping their new online tool kit will aid the process

This is an edited version of an article first published by Digital Health

NHS England (NHSE) has published a new toolkit for conducting online consultations in primary care. The goal is that it will help individual practices with the ‘successful adoption, and seamless integration, of online consultations alongside face-to-face and other services.’

The document suggests there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to implementing online consultations and encourages different practices to share their experiences with each other.

‘This is a long-term change to a more sustainable way of working that can improve your working life, staff morale and your patients’ experience of accessing care. Realising these benefits will require an investment of effort to bring about change, and this should not be underestimated,’ the guidance reads.

The toolkit provides safety, regulatory, medicolegal and professional recommendations for both practices and commissioners when they are employing digital solutions. Commissioners are encouraged to work with local medical councils and primary care networks at all stages of the implementation process.

Allocated funding should be used to both purchase systems and support successful implementation, including training and skills. The new GP contract agreed between NHSE and the British Medical Association’s (BMA) GP committee in January gives practices almost £1bn, across five years, to help fulfil ambitions laid out in the NHS Long Term Plan. This includes all GP practices offering online consultations by April 2020. Practices are also expected to provide all patients with online access to their full medical record by April 2020.

Digital services on the rise

Digital services in primary care have skyrocketed in the last few years with companies including Babylon, LIVI and Push Doctor dominating the market. The introduction of these companies prompted NHS England to launch a consultation to review funding inequalities between local GP practices and digital first providers, while also addressing high patient churn associated with digital services.

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As a result of the consultation, NHSE’s board voted to amend out-of-area patient registration rules at its meeting on 26 September. Digital-first providers will have to set up a new, alternative provider medical services (APMS) once they reach a threshold of 1,000 out-of-area patients.

Paul Bate, Babylon’s managing director of NHS services, told Digital Health News that setting up new APMS would be a ‘significant undertaking’ for both providers and commissioners, but that digital-first primary care was now ‘firmly on the map’ and a ‘primary fixture’ of the NHS for years to come.

Digital services also offer a solution to the increasing demand on GPs. Graham Kendall, chair of the Digital Healthcare Council, warned that simply ‘pedalling faster’ to keep up with demand is unsustainable. He suggested that future policies need to encourage the adoption of digital solutions to ease patient demand.

At a glance: the six aims of the toolkit

1. To focus on people, not technology. Adopting the tools alone will not transform care; they must be combined with a new way of working.

2. Share good practice, underpinned by evidence and professional guidance.

3. Describe critical success factors for making the most of innovative technology.

4. Bring to life the opportunity. Case studies enable you to learn directly from practices with practical advice about what works.

5. Help practices build connections with peers, learn collaboratively and join a virtual learning platform.

6. Support progress towards delivering the requirements of the GMS contract, network contract DES and the vision of the Long Term Plan.

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