GP Access Plan

Do digital tools hold the key to the GP access plan?

NHS England has stated that it wants to achieve greater use of digital technology through its new General Practice Access recovery policy.

This has been backed by the UK government, which aims to provide £240m for primary care to update telephone systems so more calls can be taken, patients clinically assessed and directed to the most appropriate treatment, perhaps a nurse or physiotherapist instead of a doctor. 

Having a modern phone system can only go so far, of course, but the NHSE policy does aim to fund transition cover for those practices which commit to adopting more digital tools and care navigation before March 2025.

The NHS Access Policy has two main aims: firstly to tackle the 8:00 am rush for appointments, which includes the number of people struggling to contact their practice; and for patients to know on the day they contact their practice how their request will be managed.

These goals are needed despite growth in the general practice workforce of 27% since 2019 in a bid to meet rising demand. That came in the face of the number of people in England aged 70 or over being up around a third compared to 2010, being up from 6.1m to 8.1m.

And it is this age group which, on average, has five times more GP appointments than younger generations. 

Increasing the number of NHSE staff is costly, of course, so the uptake of digital tools could aid the health service and its users if barriers to use can be removed.

General practice is already delivering more than a million appointments every day – half a million more every week than before the Covid pandemic and the Access Policy aims to support that. 

It’s fair to say that the Access Policy focus on updating phone systems has been met with a certain amount of scepticism from NHS staff but perhaps looking at this as only a starting point may be the key.

And this is where Silicon Practice comes in. Hundreds of GP practices have been successfully using our sophisticated FootFall dashboard as a way of handling patient enquiries for years. 

It has been designed to take the pressure off staff who have been bearing the brunt of frustrated patients after they’ve been waiting in long phone queues.

Forms can be submitted by a patient out of working hours and dealt with by staff according to need – in fact, everything can be tracked online including phone calls and walk-ins if the practice decides to adopt the full digital triage way of working.

Now we’ve built on experience from around the UK to help you create a better digital experience for your patients with Foundation, our latest website front-end design with optional features available. 

Foundation is consistent with NHS components and has been created to be even easier to tailor to your needs. 

Opening not closing doors

Use of digital devices is increasing across older age groups as generations grow increasingly familiar with them, although healthcare providers must always provide options for those who cannot use, or afford, a smartphone or tablet.

There are considerable benefits to be reaped by general practice if hurdles such as the digital divide can be minimised.

NHS England currently believes that care navigation could direct over 15% of patients to teams that could better help them.

Our eHub is one way that enquiries can be routed directly to, say, a community pharmacy, physiotherapist or another local service, taking a step out of the process for practice staff. Crucially the form itself remains traceable by the practice.

Integration with the NHS App login – soon to be available through Silicon Practice products – is another major step forward.

For many patients the App will be seamlessly accessed through a practice website and, as its role broadens, they will be able to use it to view clinical records, order repeat prescriptions, see practice messages instead of by texts, and manage routine appointments.

Not so remote after all

Remote consultations are still in their infancy, despite the push forward that the pandemic gave. 

Digital platforms enable patients to consult with healthcare professionals remotely, allowing for increased accessibility, especially for individuals with mobility issues or those living in rural areas. Remote consultations can be conducted through video calls, online chat, or phone calls.

When using Foundation, for example, a clinician can invite patients to a video consultation via SMS or email and take screenshots during the consultation. Our video guide explains further.

Although adoption by clinicians and patients has not been high so far it is still an area with massive potential.

Taking health records online

Digital systems facilitate the creation, storage and sharing of electronic health records, providing healthcare professionals with instant access to patient information. EHRs enhance continuity of care, enable better coordination among healthcare providers and reduce the risk of medical errors.

Foundation enables GP staff to be able to upload directly to the patient record from the dashboard, complete with SNOMED CT coding and after having the patient ID confirmed quickly through the NHS PDS.

Digital platforms can allow patients to schedule appointments online, providing convenience and reducing administrative burdens on both patients and healthcare staff.

And secure online platforms empower patients to access their health records, view test results, request prescription refills and communicate with their healthcare providers. Patient portals enhance patient engagement and encourage self-management of health.

The doctor will see your health stats

Digital health technologies such as wearable devices can help patients monitor their health and share data with healthcare providers. This can be particularly useful for managing chronic conditions or post-operative care.

Prevention is better than cure

Digital platforms offer opportunities for delivering health education materials, promoting preventive care, and providing remote support to patients through telemedicine services.

As well as patient acceptance, there will be ongoing issues to cope with including infrastructure, data privacy and security, training for healthcare professionals, and addressing the digital divide to ensure equitable access for all patients.

Do digital tools hold the key to the GP access plan? What’s the catch?

One of the main findings of a survey commissioned by the NHS Confederation and Google Health was that patients want to use health technology, but this must not come at the expense of face-to-face interaction when needed.

These were making sure patients are not excluded from digital access; increasing patient satisfaction and confidence.

The GP Access Plan does offer stepping stones to improvement. However, practices which go beyond the bare minimum in adopting the digital innovations becoming available will be the ones which see the biggest benefits. 

Silicon Practice aims to be at the forefront of providing the platforms needed to meet the growing demands of NHS patients.

For more information about how our digital services could benefit your healthcare practice, contact us.

You can follow Silicon Practice on LinkedIn.

blog by Bruno Clements