NHS England has published a new resource entitled ‘Ensuring new technology provides primary care access for all’, in which they examine the case study of Swan Medical Practice in Birmingham, where an AccuRx online consultation system was introduced in November 2020 in order to manage triage and develop more efficient communications between patients and staff.
The system allows patient to fill in a secure online form on the practice website to request care, and since 2022, via the NHS App; this then enables the surgery team to assess the request and decide who should respond and in what manner.
The document states that the new system has improved demand management and shares that ‘did not attend’ (DNA) rates fell from an average of 100 a month to only 30 in January and February 2022. This year the practice has received around 530 online consultations a week, well above the national average. Notably, despite system change and the pandemic, patient satisfaction in the 2021 GP Patient Survey remained high at 80 percent.
One of the GPs at the practice, Dr Emamoke Ubogu, said: “Many patients feed back to us that the online system is wonderful, and the ability to send their GP photos or other information digitally has saved them trips to the practice.”
The case study highlights engagement and awareness as a key factor for success. Ahead of the system launch, the practice held team discussions and training sessions and kept patients up-to-date via posters, a reception check-in screen and text messaging.
Digital inclusivity was a key priority, with the reception team trained to support patients in understanding how the system worked along with its benefits. Patients without internet access or digital skills were supported to continue using the phone or in-person visits.
In terms of challenges, the document notes that it was important to have the backing of the entire practice team, and to continue to support staff in learning and embedding new processes for several weeks following go-live. “Pre-pandemic, some of our team struggled with confidence in IT, so this was a big shift and there were some challenges in the new way of working,” said Dr Ubogu. “However, we were given training on the processes at the beginning. As the lead, I can offer training and we now have other staff who are able to train new starters.”
Looking to the future, the practice plans to improve inclusivity further by addressing the challenge of managing forms where the information isn’t easy to understand due to language barriers, and including an option for patients to book an appointment with an interpreter.