Plans by a GP surgery in New Cross to put it’s communication services online have been welcomed by the Patients’ Association, but its director has warned that digital changes could leave vulnerable patients behind.
Amersham Vale Practice have purchased software called eConsult that they hope will save 30 hours of clinical time weekly, reduce incoming phone calls by 40 percent and savings of £30,000 a year.
This technology which was engineered in South East London in 2014 will let patients request treatment, sick notes, GP letters and recent test results from doctors. This will hopefully cut down the two-week average waiting time.
Rachel Power, CEO of the Patients Association, said digital technology could bring “huge benefits” but expressed concerns that it might not be accessible to everyone.
Power said: “We must always ensure that patients’ needs are at the heart of any decision to roll-out digital solutions. Health inequality is a huge concern for us at the Patients Association, care needs to be taken to ensure that digital tools are accessible, and that alternatives are in place for those who cannot use them.”
On the other hand, some professionals are worried that the NHS may not be moving fast enough.
John Farenden, director of Ernst and Young’s new digital health innovation programme told the BMJ: “The NHS is 20 years behind the non-healthcare private sector at the moment. The rate of change is slow – it’s taken NHS England some time to publish details of its plans and time- scale for approving health apps. The benefits of technology – helping moving care out of hospitals into community, for instance – are clear. What isn’t clear is if these targets will be hit.”
Amersham Vale have acknowledged that some of their services are slow, and have decided to incorporate eConsult to combat this.
Amersham Vale Practice said: “We recognise that it is too difficult to get through on our phones. This is due to a number of factors, one of which is the large volume of calls the practice receives from patient. We wanted to do something immediately to help our patients to contact the practice more easily.”
eConsult claim that their service will save patients time, as they will no longer need to make an unnecessary trip to their GP. As a result, appointments can be freed up for people in need. Patients that do need an appointment will also have a more efficient experience as they will have a consultation with the most appropriate health care professional because the practice will already know why the patient seeks help.
CEO and eConsult co-founder Dr. Murray Ellender said: “eConsult is helping the NHS function more efficiently as well as providing a better experience for patients by allowing them to access their own GP surgery from their own home at any time.”