Across Norfolk and Waveney we are setting up a new IT system to enable local GP practices to offer online patient consultations. It is expected the new system will be available to practices in early summer 2019 and we already have 30 practices which have expressed an interest.
Online consultations involve patients contacting their GP surgery securely by using its websites or even an app. Their message is read and passed to the right member of staff to deal with, such as a pharmacist, nurse, therapist or GP. In some cases the patient can be helped or advised by responding securely online - otherwise they might be asked to come in for a face to face appointment or to pick up medicines.
One practice already offering online consultations since September is The Hollies in Downham Market, and it has had a very positive response from patients. Their current system allows people to submit a message which is managed during surgery opening hours. Patients receive a response online or by telephone or appointment.
The Hollies says online consultations have made a significant change in the way the practice team works. The new service has relieved a lot of stress regarding appointments, reduced telephone queues and allowed more choice in the way patients can interact with the practice.
Patients who have used the service have provided feedback on their experiences and since the launch, data shows a satisfaction rate of 93%, with patients agreeing that this new service has improved contact with the practice and patients are very pleased that a system is in place that suits their needs.
Video consultations require significant investment in IT, and the current IT infrastructure used by the NHS (called the ‘N3’) is not sufficient in Norfolk and Waveney. This is why we are working to upgrade systems with the new ‘Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) which has a greater bandwidth. It will be some time before this is ready. When it is, GP practices will be invited to trial video consultations. We do not expect this to happen in the short term.