An online consultation scheme aiming to reduce pressure on GP practices has been praised following trials in Sunderland.
Sunderland’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has recently signed up to the ‘eConsult’ provider which provides an online portal for patients.
This allows patients to self-check their symptoms and receive on the spot medical advice with the results of the online form securely emailed to GP practices.
The software can also identify medical risks, signposting patients to NHS 111 or alternative providers depending on anwsers.
Currently, 12 GP practices in Sunderland are running a live service with another three to be added by March 2019.
This week, health bosses from the city CCG’s Primary Care Commissioning Committee heard an update on the scheme in Sunderland.
Senior project manager, Lynne Thompson, said the service had been well received so far by both patients and GPs.
“We really want to promote and push that this isn’t cutting off the ways you contact GPs, this is purely opening up new channels to allow patients an alternative route of access, she told the committee at Bede Tower.
“Those patients who can’t use those digital channels will still be able to get through on the telephone.
“It’s about increasing access to GP practices to try new channels to free up the more traditional ones.”
She added that the CCG was working with Age UK to support vulnerable and hard to reach patients who are “digitally excluded” in this process.
Between October and November, 137 consultations were submitted leading to 41 pharmacy self-help visits, 75 self-help visits and eight referrals to other services, data revealed.
This included 23 estimated appointments being saved in October and 60 in November.
The Hetton Group Practice – which saw eConsult promoted to more than 6,000 patients – also saw website visits and consultations rise from 10 to 46 per week.
As a result, the practice has also reported lower call volumes from patients.
Clinical chairman of Sunderland CCG’s governing body, Dr Ian Pattison, said the project pilots were “preparing practices for the future”.
Chief officer of Sunderland CCG, David Gallagher, added the pilots would allow the CCG to monitor the effectiveness of the new system.
This process, he explained, would allow CCG to collect data around “cause and effect” and allow the service to roll out in a controlled way, reducing impact on patients.
Although eConsult is currently optional, there are plans to promote it to patients and health staff against the backdrop of a regional campaign.
The meeting heard several Sunderland GPs are already showing interest in the new technology.
“It shows that hopefully the perception is changing and that it is hopefully going to be seen as something that everyone will get on board with,” Ms Thompson added.
Business Change is also working with each practice to ensure processes are correct, with nine assessments completed in Sunderland so far.
Picture credit: Pixabay
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service