Commenting in Andrea Downey’s article in Digital Health News, DHC director Graham Kendall explained how technology has an important part to play reducing GP burnout and managing patient demand, giving examples of how DHC members have been supporting clinicians to tackle the pressures of Covid.
“With a record-level waiting list of 5.4 million and an additional 6 million expected to join that, together with increasing concerns about staff burnout, it’s essential that we provide GPs with as much support as possible.
“Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen GPs seize the opportunity with digital and drive uptake of online triage and consultations so that they can continue delivering care within the constraints of the pandemic. However, considerable challenges still remain, and it’s important to recognise that digital has a key role in improving capacity and alleviating pressure.
“Although we understand why some are concerned that the 24/7 nature of the tools is adding to the pressure, we believe that shutting the door to patients at nights and weekends is a short-term and potentially dangerous way to manage the demand. If we are actually able to tackle the incoming deluge of patients, we need to ensure we have the tools in place to assess the extent of demand so that we can then match resource accordingly.”
Case studies from DHC members emphasising the benefits of digital services
The Haxby Group in York has been using Klinik’s AI triage and patient flow management technology since 2019. It now helps the practice deal with 90,000-plus people across Yorkshire and Humberside, according to Dr Thomas Patel-Campbell, CCIO at the Group.
“Our GPs are under severe pressure. With Klinik, often requests don’t have to go through a GP,” said Thomas. “It can help us field enquiries that can be dealt with better elsewhere, such as sick notes or test results that can be dealt with by others, or medication requests that can be dealt with by pharmacists,” he said.
Klinik uses artificial intelligence to analyse information provided by patients in online triage forms or over the phone, indicating the urgency and priority for each case.
For the months of June, July and August at Haxby Group practices there were:
- 42,000 enquiries through Klinik
- 60% were online enquiries
- 40% were via the phone
- 94% of patients rated the service good or excellent
“Traditional thinking suggests that broadening access means increasing demand, but that has not been borne out in practice. It is actually very predictable,” Dr Patel-Campbell adds.
“We have much more accurate information on the time and volume of demand. We know how much resource we need at particular times of day, and we can see what type of care people need.”
Around 8 in 10 patients within North Tyneside NHS CCG are happy with the service they’ve received from Livi, according to a survey.
The CCG ran a 12-month pilot of the online provider from July 2020 in a bid to provide more choice for patients when accessing a GP.
Some 222,000 patients across 25 practices had access to GP appointments, from 7am until 10pm during the week, and from 8am until 4pm at weekends.
A survey of patients following the pilot found 62% would rate the service very good, with 17% rating it good. Nearly 20% of respondents who used Livi would otherwise have gone to A&E or an urgent care centre.
Richard Scott, clinical chair, North Tyneside CCG, said: “With health services being very busy at the moment, it’s important to give patients choice in the way that they can access a GP that’s convenient to them.
“Supporting increased flexibility and better access to high-quality healthcare remains our priority and it’s been encouraging to hear the positive feedback from patients using this online GP service.”
The Grove Medical Centre in Swansea implemented askmyGP in April 2020 after the practice team decided it was vital to have a triage system in place to maintain quality services.
They then began encouraging patients to use online services, as well as accessing the practice via the phone.
Dr Jack Williams, one of four GP partners at The Grove, said: “For us, it’s not all about e-consulting. Yes, askmyGP allows us to e-consult, but the benefit for us is that it is a triage system with the capability to do an e-consult if we wish.
“We can respond to people with a message on the system, but we will still call the patient or conduct a patient examination if needed.”
Data from askmyGP suggests requests at The Grove are resolved on average 116 minutes after they are made. The data also provides visibility of demand.
“The visibility of demand that askmyGP offers has enabled us to rearrange rotas and match our capacity to that. This also helps with staff morale, as it means we can aim for all the staff being equally busy on different days.”